I’ve thought a lot about this post. What should I say? How should I say it? Should I say anything at all? Am I just adding to the noise? Maybe. But maybe not. Maybe you need to hear this from someone you know in real life. Maybe you need to hear this from someone who is questioning everything just like you. Maybe you need to hear this from someone who is broken-hearted and hurting, too. Maybe you need to hear this because we come from similar backgrounds. Maybe you just need to hear this.
The 49 people that died Sunday morning were targeted because they are gay.
Forty-nine. I honestly still can’t wrap my mind around that. I was 11 in 2001, and though I remember where I was on 9/11, I couldn’t feel what was really happening. I feel it this time. Big time.
I read the news at brunch on Sunday. I was sitting at a table with ten other people, some of which I didn’t know. I thought it was a joke. Am I that desensitized to mass shootings that I don’t immediately feel something now? I turned to my friend Cait and told her. I don’t think either of us knew what to say or do. “Forty-nine?” she asked. “Forty-nine,” I said. I ate my brunch in the sweltering humidity, went home, took a cold shower, and literally collapsed on my couch. I was scrolling mindlessly through Facebook, as you do, and saw an event a friend of mine shared. Someone organized a vigil and a march in Oak Lawn, commonly known here as the gayborhood and the site of nearly 20 attacks on LGBTQ people in the last seven months.
Something in me told me I should go. It was storming hard outside but everyone on the event page said it’d lighten up by 8 when the vigil started. I didn’t ask anyone to go with me and I struggled all afternoon with my reasons for going. How would this look? No one can go with me, though. Can’t I mourn at home? What will people think of me? Selfish thoughts. Ones I’m ashamed to admit. I couldn’t shake the big reason: That this was not okay. And sitting idly by because of a selfish reason is stupid, Melody. Stupid.
My decision to be bolder and more outspoken this year has manifested itself in unique ways. This time, it made me march with my Dallas community in remembrance, sadness and anger. I left my house in the rain and decided quickly that I should buy flowers. I’ve learned to never show up empty handed anywhere. I stopped by my Trader Joe’s and walked in the rain through the front door passing a couple of other people with only flowers, no doubt heading to the same vigil, and stood in front of the shelves. I suddenly realized I was standing in a store, in front of bouquets of flowers, trying to decide which ones to buy to lay on a monument in honor of 49 lives ripped from this earth. My stomach turned. Did it matter if I bought the $3.99, $4.99 or $5.99? Should I spring for the orchid plant? What the hell do I do here? What the hell am I doing here?
I grabbed a bouquet that was colorful. I couldn’t tell you what flowers were in it now. I checked out, fake smiled at the sweet lady who asked me if I needed another bag for my flowers, and walked back out in the rain and headed to the vigil.
As I turned the corner onto Cedar Springs I saw blue and red flashing lights, hundreds of people and rainbow flags. I’m uncomfortable alone and I get anxiety pretty easily in situations like that if I don’t have someone there with me, but I walked up to the edge of the crowd. I wondered if anyone could sense my anxiety. The speeches were just beginning. In the middle of the first speech I noticed my half of the crowd was turned away from the front, towards the sky. Cheers erupted and at first I thought someone got engaged. I looked up and lost my breath.
Standing among the hundreds, and eventually 1,000+, of people in the rain, a beautiful rainbow overhead, honoring forty-nine lives…that will get you in the heart. Quick. At one point, one of the speakers asked all of us to hug someone we were standing next to. I hugged a very thin, tall older man tight. I needed someone to hug in that moment. And I needed someone to hug me. I needed to be reminded for a second that everything was going to be okay. That even though I didn’t fully understand what happened or why I was there or what would happen, everything would be okay. Just for a second.
People lit candles when the speeches ended and we turned around to line up in the street behind a row of cops on bicycles. The news had a helicopter hovering the entire time showing it live for everyone at home. Dozens of photographers. Dozens of cops on bikes, motorcycles, on foot, in cars. Most of our city council was there. The police chief marched with us. I somehow snagged a spot at the front of the herd behind one of the flags. I didn’t know what to do. I felt like I should let someone else that was hurting more than me in my spot. Let me in the back. Because I’m straight this shouldn’t affect me as much as it does you. I don’t deserve to be here. What’s that? Guilt? Why?
I walked silently in my Converse holding my flowers and umbrella. The cops blocked off the streets. People came out of their homes to watch us walk. At one point, a couple came out on their third story patio, embracing, with candles lifted up and I nearly lost it. As we got to the more commercial part of Cedar Springs road where all the bars and restaurants are, every business shut off their music and people lined the sidewalks and cheered or stood silently. Two men bought a couple cases of water and were running bottles to those of us on the fringe of the crowd. I cried then. The sheer humanity. People helping people helping people? Maybe everything will be okay.
I didn’t know how long we’d be marching. I got blisters on my heels. 1.8 miles later we arrived at the Legacy of Love monument. I tried to silently prepare myself for the new sites I was about to see. I’ve never done anything like this before. I don’t visit gravesites, I don’t attend vigils, I don’t do marches. I don’t particularly like emotions nor am I good at comforting. I eventually made my way through the crowd of people already at the monument paying respects and the act of what I was doing overwhelmed me. I found a blank spot to lay down my $3.99 Trader Joe’s flowers, broke down, and found a spot to stand alone in the crowd.
Exponentially more are hurting. It could’ve been any one of us. We sang quietly, paid our respects and dispersed after an hour or so. I stood in line for the bus back to the center and quietly sat next to the guy who took a seat next to me. My anxiety of not acknowledging him was covered up in my thoughts and confusion. I got in my car and cried the whole way home.
Because the 49 were gay does that mean we stay silent and not admit to the world that this was horrific? Because they were gay does that mean we don’t grieve with those families? I don’t care what you believe about the “right” and “wrong” of being gay. THIS was wrong. Forty-nine. The youngest was 18. My youngest sister is 17 and when I have a nightmare about her dying I wake up weeping. Someone is living that right now.
The church should not be silent about this. Plain and simple. If we stay silent we’re telling those families their children’s lives were not worth anything. Jesus loved them just as much as He loves me. And I believe He can love it all away. Jesus did not send that shooter. Jesus did not ordain that massacre. It could’ve been any one of us.
Pray. Pray for change and peace and comfort and healing in your own heart and in this world and thank God for His sovereignty. Have hope that things will be okay. But don’t rest in that. Take action. Make change. Do something. Speak out. Love someone. Because love wins. It always will.