Almost everyone of a certain age can tell you where they were, and what they were doing, when some kind of horrible news came down the wire. We can’t remember where we put our phones, but we can recall commercial jingles, sports statistics, Oscar winners, and the personal elements of a larger tragedy with relative, often annoying ease. I know exactly where I was, what I was thinking, and what I was doing when the towers went down on September 11th. I remember who I was talking to, when I first heard the reports on Columbine.
I have a lot of memories like those. People older than I am have a similar connection to the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Except that as I’m getting older, I’m remembering less in the way of details. Is the world really worse than it was ten years ago, twenty years ago? I see a lot of arguments on that subject. I won’t venture a guess. It does seem so at times. Then again, other times, I would swear that the world is just as shitty as ever. The only major difference now is that even if you don’t really want to be exposed to the vile news stories of the day, you have to pretty much avoid social media and the internet altogether. I have access to more information now than ever, and that doesn’t seem to make me a happier person.
When I first heard about Orlando? I couldn’t tell you exactly what was going on. I can’t remember. All I can recall right now is the thick, sadistic fog that seems to settle over me, whenever these things happen. They seem to be occurring with greater and greater frequency. Shootings that make national headlines are now almost guaranteed from one week to the next. One very, very minor consequence of this is that I can no longer remember the where and when. All I can really remember isn’t even a memory, but more of an assumption. I can only assume that when the latest shooting occurs, or when xenophobia and racism come out on top in the Brexit debacle, or when Republicans wage another war on women and/or minorities, my heart chokes on rage and sorrow. It feels like trying to breathe in the middle of an apocalyptic dust bowl. I’m trying to stay alive, or at least make sense of my surroundings, but either of those things become easier said than done.
But you have to try. You have to get angry about these things. You have to strive for more than thoughts, prayers, or that crippling helplessness that never completely shuts up.
Once or twice a week, I practice a little self-care by getting out of the house to get some coffee, find a quiet corner, and barrel through as much work as humanly possible. The people watching isn't bad either. I'm a sucker for it, as inherently creepy as the notion can sometimes be to people. I like interacting with people, if only sometimes in very small doses, and I like the fact that it's easy enough to be left alone.
I woke up to the news of the shooting at an Orlando nightclub, blearily scrolling through my Facebook feed over the first cigarette of the day. By noon, I was heartbroken, close to speechless.
The rage and rhetoric on social media, even when I agreed with someone wholeheartedly, left me feeling weary and depressed. In situations such as these, I prefer to look for love. I try to notice the fact that in spite of everything, there are things in this world that can compel you to subscribe to something better than pure hopelessness. Sometimes, the best you can do is reach for the state-of-being that's less than half a breath away from that one.
But in the day following the blunt, mindless murder of dozens, the latest story to feature such details, I found it hard to believe that love was out there. I could no longer see peace as a reasonable dream. I couldn’t even imagine tiny, infinitely kind gestures being able to remind me that things aren’t completely fucked. Part of that is my own childish, draining cynicism. Part of that, I believe, was simply a natural response to my surroundings. I will never know what LGBTQ+ people go through. Even so, the need for people to be safe forces me to become almost paralyzed with rage, sadness, and disbelief, when these news stories hold a cruel sway over everyone and everything.
Thank god for the times in which those pockets, sounds, or shapes of genuine, moving humanity come to me out of the blue. Around 3 that afternoon, I went out for a cigarette. An employee of Roast Coffee & Tea Trading Company came outside a moment later, explaining to me that they needed to hang up something near my table. She just didn't want me to think that someone was messing with my stuff. I appreciated that, and I watched, smoking, as she then brought out a poster that read simply "We Stand With Orlando.”
When I came back inside, a large man in a Deftones approached with the Roast employee, asking if they could put up some paper hearts on them. As you can see, the hearts reveal the names of those who were ripped from this world by absolute madness. Their precious physical forms were by savage, numbing violence. For those of us who are still among the living, and for those of us who do not have to fear death or cruelty in their safe spaces, we are left with our anger over the fact that we are collectively allowing on one level or another for these things to continue to occur.
I am not much of an ally. At least, I don't want you to think I am. I'll just do the best I can, and hopefully, it will amount to something greater than myself. It was hardly an inconvenience to tell the people who put up the sign and hearts that I didn't mind the need to move across and around my table. It wasn't much to help put up the hearts that needed to go on the window a little higher than they could reach.
But the gesture was apparently appreciated all the same. Before leaving, the guy in the Deftones shirt handed me a 5 dollar gift card for Roast. I didn't have time to say that the gesture was appreciated, but not necessary. Besides, people tell me it's rude to turn down such acts of kindness or appreciation.
I am still making sense of the hopelessness that I can't quite shake off. I am always making sense of that, but there are times when it is taking up far too much space in my heart and mind. In situations such as these, I remind myself that everyone deserves to be safe. Everyone deserves to remember that we still have time to make decisions that swing the doors open to people who deserve visibility and compassion as much as anyone else, but who may not receive it in whatever place they live. Some people have to deal with words and glances. Others are living in a constant, vivid state of danger, even when they simply leave the house to go to school or work. I won't pretend to know what those people go through. I can only do whatever I can to create a situation in which they feel like human beings. I fail at that a lot, but I'm trying.
A lot of people are trying. That doesn't change the horrible things, the monsters of government and religion, or just the people who are worried that the PC Police are going to take away their "right" to make rape jokes. Good does not come with the inherent bonus to eradicate the bad. But good does make a difference. I remembered that when I encounter people like the ones I met today. I honestly have no idea if good will save the world, but I do believe it's still worth trying to make things a little better for the people around you.
Clearly, far greater acts need to occur, if we are ever going to make substantial improvements to this unpredictable, maniacal planet we live on. In the wake of Orlando, I have witnessed an outpouring of love, support, and the commitment to fight for progress that will actually come with substance. It's not the whole solution, but I don't think that makes basic kindness and consideration any less valuable.
I just hope that this time, basic kindness and consideration will get a little assistance from a genuine desire to do what we can. No matter what anyone tells you, we can take the profound, difficult steps that will ensure this doesn't continue to happen, with what feels like the frequency of Monday Night Football.
We'll see. My feelings aren't particularly important in this situation. I'm still grateful for what I experienced that day. I hope your loved ones were there for you, when this story broke, particularly if it reminded you that as a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer, you have to continue to exist in spaces that do not want you to feel safe. If you find yourself slipping into the darker neighborhoods of your thoughts. I hope you find a moment of peace. I hope you have the opportunity to improve the outlook of an exhausted cynic.
Unfortunately, with the way things are right now, I also hope that you live through the week, the month, the year, and the decades to come. Yeah, to be alive is to live with the fact that life is chaotic and dangerous. However, no matter what anyone tells you, we can actually dial those things back a little. We are forever in a position to offer more than thoughts and prayers, or the stagnant search for an understanding of why these things keep happening.
We know why they keep happening. We know. We know. We know why these things keep happening.
And I’m willing to believe you’re as pissed off as I am.
Where should we go from that?
GABRIEL RICARD is an editor and contributor with Kleft Jaw, the author of Captain Canada's Movie Rodeo, and a contributor at Cultured Vultures.