Two days ago.
I stood, two days ago, on a packed city street, with tens of thousands of fellow Louisvillians, the June sun high and hot, every walk of life, every skin color, every age, every socioeconomic status, every faith tradition, represented in the masses gathered. We’d come, all of us, from all over the city, to say goodbye to our hometown hero, Muhammad Ali. And in doing so we were somehow being exactly as he’d hoped the vast majority of his life that we would, in fact, all of us, one day be.
We were being together. Without malice. Unified. Compassionate.
A Muslim man smiled, nodded his head, and said, “God bless, ma’am” as I pointed him in the direction of the nearest bathroom. Three little girls squealed joyfully as they unexpectedly ran into “the lunch lady,” from their school and were pulled in to her caring embrace. People handed out free water. And shared updates from their phones with each other. And made connections. And laughed. And cried some, too. And told stories of The Greatest. And all of this, all I saw, was summed up in the words of a young woman next to me who whispered, “I cannot believe it. All this love. Stretching all the way from the highway to here, from all over the world. It’s just amazing.”
My heart sang. And I thought, “This. This is what we were meant for. This kindness and generosity of spirit. This is what it means to be human beings together.”
That was two days ago. Two damn days ago, y’all. A lifetime, it feels like tonight, as I sit curled up on my bed, trying to put to words the tears I’ve fought all day, the anger that has roiled in me, the resignation I’ve tried to push back.
Two days ago some 50 men and women had not been gunned down in the midst of dancing and celebrating and being. Two days ago 50-plus other men and women were not laying in hospital beds, gunshot wounds having leveled them there. Two days ago I’d never even heard of Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Two days ago hope was the first word on my lips.
Today, two days later, I’ve cried off and on all day and hope is very hard to come by. I’ve prayed the names of people I love who could easily have been in that nightclub, or one very much like it in some other major city. I’ve sighed in deep and awful resignation as the inevitable spinning and finger-pointing and name-calling and politicizing as ensued. I’ve flipped through my files for the words of Wendell Berry and David Wilcox, two poets I’ve turned to again and again in the face of evil and heartache. I’ve held my daughter so close she asked, “Are you okay, Mommy?”
Two days ago, I was riding high on hope. Two days later, and I’m wondering, seriously, what the hell is wrong with this world, that such hate can brew, simmer, then boil over into such madness and awful pain.
If you’re expecting me to say something about gun control or mental illness or Trump or Clinton or Obama and their various responses to this, get ready to be disappointed. We’ve worked ourselves into such a frenzied stalemate in all that that I cannot even begin to see a way out. Already we’re yelling at each other about who is to blame and who can fix it and they haven’t even identified those 50 precious bodies yet. There is no entry point for reasoned conversation from where I’m sitting. There’s just the yelling.
What I do know is this: hate begets hate. And blame begets blame. And judgment of another human being never, in the end, leads anywhere good.
I also know this: words matter. (To hell with that stupid rhyme about sticks and stones and words not hurting us.) They matter a great deal. And when we use our words to hurt, to judge, to attack and draw circles around who is in and who is out, the end result is always, somehow, loss of life. Rhetoric is a powerful and mighty tool and it can destroy us just as easily as it can help us be whole again.
I want to use words that heal. That offer hope. I just cannot with the angry ones, even as I’ve been angry today. I just cannot with the ones that crow triumphantly, “See! I told you!” or “Well, what’d they expect?” I just cannot with the words that divide. That wound. That mark one human being as more or less than another. I just cannot with words that rip us apart when what we so desperately need is to stitch each other up along our broken places, so that some space is made for love and understanding to flourish.
I want to say that even as I am so overwhelmed with how completely gut-wrenching this day has felt, I can feel in me this need to offer up in the face of it all as much love and grace and patience and compassion and tolerance as is humanly possible.
Because two days ago, I saw, firsthand, all around me, such love and grace and patience and compassion and tolerance. Two days ago, I saw what’s possible. What we’re truly capable of. And I’m not sure I could’ve stood today, could’ve even begun to articulate a response if I didn’t have two days ago still firmly etched in my memory and upon my heart.
For the lives that have been lost, or forever changed, because of what has happened in Orlando, I am so very sad tonight. But I will not let such evil consume me. What has happened in Orlando, it is evil personified. But I know that love gets personified, too. I know that death does not get the last word. I know that just when we think we can’t fight the evil anymore is exactly when we’ve got to hold on the hardest with as much love as we can muster and refuse to back down. We’ve got be tenacious, these days, scrappy and insistent, if we’re going to proclaim, “Love wins.”
Because it does. Always. In the end. Even when we can’t imagine how that could possibly be so.
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