Amid the chaos of a normal Saturday morning with three young children, I briefly saw a headline on social media about a shooting at a local concert. As I read the details, I was saddened and shocked about the tragedy at the Plaza – a locale that we have driven by frequently over the years.
Then, amid the chaos of getting ready for church on Sunday morning, I saw a breaking news headline flash on TV. My husband checked social media and read the first post he saw, “Orlando friends and family, please post you status as soon as you can.” I was glued to my phone on our drive, literally thinking that it can’t be real. Then I saw the helicopters overhead. I couldn’t make sense of what had happened, but then I realized that nobody could. It was 9:30AM and the final shot had been fired a mere 4 hours previously…a mere mile from where we were driving at that exact moment.
In church, we prayed for those 20 individuals who had lost their lives. During the closing prayer, sobs could be heard when we were asked to now pray for the 50 lives that had been lost. When we stopped to pick up lunch on the way home, the news was playing through the overhead speakers and both the workers and the patrons were somber and eerily quiet.
At the office on Monday, coworkers asked if anyone knew anyone that had been affected. We read news report after news report between meetings in which we were not 100% present. One coworker, who was born and raised in Orlando, became emotional while sharing that her mother was active in the LGBT community and her father was Muslim.
Social media swarmed with posts about the tragedies – the latest updates, local establishments that were offering various forms of comfort, arguments (among those that are no longer “Facebook friends”) over gun control, locals who were ready to get out of town and locals who shared their emotional experience as first responders. Billboards and corporate signs along the roads showed various hashtags – #orlandostrong, #orlandounited, etc… A photo of my cousin, who joined the vigil in London to show support for Orlando hit me the hardest, as I didn’t comprehend the reach of these tragedies. Until then, it felt as if we were in a bubble facing these horrific events, while the rest of the world went about their business.
The local radio DJs were compassionate as listeners called in to say whatever they needed to say. I listened to a spot that included an imam, a pastor and a rabbi, who are friends, as they discussed their take on the tragedy. I listened to the owner of the Orlando City Lions talk about how the players and staff, many of whom are not from Orlando, came together on Sunday night for comfort. I read about the donations that were flowing in from businesses near and far. I saw photos of locals giving blood. On Tues., I unexpectedly found myself next to the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. Flowers and people swarming the front lawn. Homemade signs begging for love and unity lining the streets.
But then there was the tragedy at Disney. On the way home from work, I gripped the steering wheel so tight as I made myself listen to the trapper horrifically recount what probably happened to that young boy and detail what to do if confronted with the situation in the future. For the sake of living in Florida and having young children, I needed to know.
Until this past Wednesday, I hadn’t shed tears with the world. But when we sat down to dinner with our kids, my husband and I tried to talk about the events of the day in code, and in front of them all, I really lost it. The images that have been running through my head since last Friday are too much. And if they are too much for me, imagine what those who are suffering through the loss of close friends and immediate family must be feeling. Reading about how Christina Grimmie’s brother tackled her shooter, the detailed recounts from the survivors at Pulse, and then how that father tried to save his son – it’s just too much.
No matter where we live in the world, or what religion we practice, or how we feel about gun control, we all want the same thing – we want our friends and family to be safe. We want to protect our children from any harm that may come their way. And that is why the events of this past week in our hometown have affected everyone around the globe. We can’t imagine the horror those who lost family and friends are living and we can’t imagine the grief they are experiencing, but we know that we would need an insurmountable amount of support ourselves were it to happen to us. And for those reasons, we are now, and forever will be, #orlandostrong.