The Tragedy in Orlando: I Still Believe in Humanity

The Tragedy in Orlando: I Still Believe in Humanity

I’m taking a couple of weeks off from writing. Time for family, fellowship and probably a bit more food than I really ought to eat.

But I couldn’t leave without a brief word on the tragedy in Orlando.

I haven’t read through the entire list of victims, but my sense is that I don’t know anyone who died or was wounded in the cruel and inexcusable slaughter that occurred at The Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Not knowing anyone was not a foregone conclusion; my office is in that city.

In an important sense, though, it doesn’t matter. Orlando, you are now my second home. You are my community. These were my people.

Such horrific events have strange effects on our behavior. One of my adult daughters called us Sunday morning (when we were on the road) because we had been in Orlando the day before and she was worried. My wife and I simply noted that we weren’t exactly at the stage of life where we “clubbed” much . . . then we talked through the anxiety.

Because that’s what it was. Free-floating anxiety. Fear. And mounds and mounds of grief, not for someone in particular, but for all those we did not know whose lives had been ended.

When radio news reporter Herb Morrison was sent to cover the arrival of the Hindenberg at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in May of 1937, he thought he was covering a fun, exciting, perhaps awe-inspiring historic event. He’d probably given a little thought to how best to bring to his listeners’ minds the wonder of this massive lighter-than-air craft as it floated gently to the ground.

Instead, he watched in horror as the zeppelin burst into flames while still well up in the air, trapping passengers and crew in a collapsing fireball of destruction.

Mr. Morrison struggled to describe what he was witnessing, struggled to do what he had been sent to do. And one phrase always has spoken to me out of that whole horrible broadcast.

“Oh, the humanity!”

I can’t help but weep, knowing no one, having no direct connection to the souls whose lives were lost, nor to the families who are grieving.

Because these men and women are my brothers and my sisters. I may walk a different road, see the world through different lenses, but we share a bond of humanity that is deeper and stronger than any differences that might at times divide us.

I think of my family members and my friends, once again reminded of the frailty of human life, the vulnerability of the innocent to the wicked, the darkness that has come to overshadow the minds of far too many.

And I think of my Muslim neighbors and the members of the Muslim community I have visited. How much they, too, are hurting, fearing reprisals, angered that their faith has again been illegitimately spattered with the blood of innocents killed by fools who claim to serve a God they dishonor.

Oh, the humanity!

You and I, dear reader, always face choices in these moments. I won’t play the tune of gun control advocates this time, nor rail against radical “Islam” (debatable whether the killer or those to whom he claims allegiance having any right to that title). Time enough for sorting out the facts, learning lessons about security, taking action against those who would feed this evil by their words and their deeds.

Now . . . maybe now and at all times, we must start with the word “us.” With the sense of our common humanity. With the conviction, which we must renew each day, that we are meant to live in peace with our neighbor, however near or far, however familiar or different. That what must unite us is our recognition, in the stranger, of our sister, our brother, our neighbor and, with any luck, our friend.

Because I still believe that we were meant for fellowship, for community. That we, humans all, were meant to live together in peace, not apart in fear.

Sure, I’ll be more vigilant again. I’ll watch and listen. And that free-floating anxiety will trouble my sleep and disturb my moments of reverie. I’ll worry, and I’ll make some provision for that worry.

But I will not give in to fear, to hate, to the rage terrorists seek to fuel in us. I will not react or attack.

I will choose to befriend. I will choose to be open. I will choose, in my tiny way, to risk all for the one thing that unites every victim with every one of us.