I don’t know what to say. All I know is that I share in the collective grief of those lost in the Orlando tragedy. I believe in the power of story and its ability to bring us closer to ourselves and others. So I want to share a few short personal stories that light up as I’m processing what’s happening in our world right now. These are in no way intended to bring any attention toward myself. On the contrary, I hope that they will help us all look inward and find something in ourselves that helps us connect more deeply with humanity.
When I was 19 years old, I lost my best friend. She was my sister. She forced me to watch movies like Blood In Blood Out, Stand and Deliver, and Mi Familia – over and over. No, we weren’t Mexican American. We were Boricua. But these films were the closest thing we could get to seeing ourselves on TV. She was by my side for every sacrament, milestone, triumph, and disappointment. Her companionship was everything. Her loss left a gaping hole in my heart that will live with me forever.
Each of the 49 victims was someone’s best friend.
When I was pregnant with my second child, I met a dear friend who was the most beautiful, radiant, pregnant woman I had ever seen. Her child became my child. My child became hers. We did everything together. When she lost her child due to a tragic accident, we mourned together. Every June on his birthday and every September on the anniversary of his passing, we are overwhelmed by love and grief. That feeling will never fade. He was our baby. We were his village.
Each of the 49 victims was someone’s baby, the child of a village.
When I was in college, I began to dance and teach Bomba y Plena, the traditional folkloric dances of Puerto Rico. In the most unexpected ways, this art form connected me to something greater than myself. The dance floor became my sanctuary, the music my safe-haven. In this America, which taught me everything about me was wrong and that I did not belong, my people, heritage, and identity made life a little more bearable. I found a place where I belonged.
Many of the 49 victims were Puerto Rican or Latino. They are ours and we are theirs. An attack on one is an attack on us all.
On the morning of June 26, 2015, I sat in a room with a group of people I had recently met studying issues of diversity and equity. Among them was a gay woman who became my instant friend and unknowingly impacted my life. I had spent a great portion of that diversity week processing my biases and faulty LGBTQ+ narratives. When the news came in about same sex marriage I watched my new beautiful friend express the full range of emotions from gratitude to despair to love. In that moment, I realized how deeply these narratives were rooted in me and I wanted desperately to rip them out because I had seen her humanity in a way that was different than anything else I’d ever seen before. That day, she allowed me the privilege of living that experience with her. For this I am grateful and forever changed.
Many of the 49 victims were part of the LGBTQ+ community. They faced real life dangers to their physical and emotional lives on a daily basis. Their stories and courage are something we may never know.
May we choose to share in others’ pain and grief even if it means having to walk into the dark and painful places of our own.
May we choose compassion and empathy in a world that tells us it’s not safe to live with our hearts wide open.
May we choose to take care of ourselves in the process.
Above all, may we choose to walk in unrelenting love for the humanity that connects us all.