What Do I Feel About Orlando?

Posted: June 21, 2016 in Uncategorized

Forty-nine people were murdered in an Orlando, Florida gay club. Much has been reported and editorialized about this atrocity. It’s my head and heart that I am still trying to fill. With meaning and empathy. I can understand it from certain perspectives, but that understanding is on an objective, factual level, a level that perceives how people act toward and react from certain stimuli. On that level I can incorporate how someone has the capability to commit such a heinous act into a framework that is logical. I will not chalk it all up to the original depravity of the human condition. Although that certainly is a factor—everyone is infected with that depravity according to my faith commitment—not all of us murder 49 people.

There are a few uncovered facts, however, which paint a young man who is gravely emotional and unbalanced: He had a twisted and false understanding of his religion, the leaders of which have denounced the atrocity. He had a lack of clarity about various radical religious groups, the sum of which does not comprise the whole of the religion of his faith tradition. (The young man was treating the various Islamic factions as different extensions of the same movement; whereas, in practice, these factions are antagonistic toward each other. In practice, an adherent would identify only with one of them and not three or more as he did.) He had a lack of moral compunction, which even allowed him to abuse his wife, who should have been the object of his love. And a fact that is murky and may only be rumor is his reported frequenting of gay venues, which possibly included the one in which he murdered 49 people and injured almost as many, though this fact has been disputed.

Discounting the last of the puzzle pieces just listed, this young man’s mental and emotional state is a picture of a young man caught in the grip of a narrative promulgated by a few fanatical clerics. He surrendered to the narrative thus locking his mind in a box. He was no longer free to think; therefore, he set his mind on a shelf, and filled the vacuum with thoughts, words, and actions scripted by the few fanatical leaders and not from his religion, Islam. The results were devastating.

But consider the last of the pieces above. It was a gay bar. There were other venues where this atrocity could have taken place. Should there be more truth than rumor—time should bring clarity—that he had frequented gay bars, another set of puzzle pieces emerge: Was he genuinely homophobic? If he was, it may have come from the way his religion had been twisted and thus presented to him; it may have come from his sense of what it means to be masculine; or, it may have come from a fear that he was gay himself. If he had latent gay feelings, was he struggling with accepting his own sexuality in that he didn’t want to be gay and lashed out at those who were the living witness to what he himself feared he also was—something he loathed, which loathing again was the result of a fundamentalist religion?

This approach to understanding what happened in Orlando can be structured as an academic exercise. Scientific study from the fields of psychology, anthropology,  biology, sociology, and theology can all be brought to bear on it. But using an academic approach leaves me numb, empty, almost as though I had received a news report in an ordinary day. I don’t live in Orlando. I didn’t know anyone who died or was injured at the gay club called Pulse.  Nor, to my knowledge, do I know someone who knows someone who was even in Orlando on that fateful night, much less at the club.

But I can’t push it away, consign it to a think-about-later box, and thus eventually forget it. What it means to be human in the middle of such tragedy keeps coming back to the front of my thoughts, not dysfunctionally, but persistently. I think about being young and losing a boyfriend in such a sudden, tramatic way. I can’t wrap my head around that because I have never had a boyfriend—but I was young once, and so I try to imagine it. I think about what it must be like to have survived the experience, maybe even lying in a hospital, and be filled with guilt that I survived. I think about the anguish of a parent learning of the death of a son and also, at the same time, and perhaps for the first time, hearing that he was gay (either news may be traumatic to hear), and I wonder how it would feel if I were the surviving boyfriend and met my friend’s parents, perhaps for the first time, after such a tragedy. I sometimes wish I could have been there with open arms, with a shoulder, with an ear—arms for hugs, a shoulder for tears, an ear to listen. I hope each survivor, including relatives, was able to receive these gifts. Even now, as I write this, there is a tightness in my chest.

I am limited by not having a personal connection and by not being there. So I do what I can. I allow my heart to swell with grief,  my mind to sort my thoughts, and my spirit to voice my prayer. The spiritual power of God’s Spirit connects me with many in Orlando in a powerful way and that encourages me and I trust brings solace to hurting souls in some way, large or small.

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