A Porch Lantern Vigil for 50 Dead

I have all sorts of things I’d like to write about, but I can’t stop thinking about this morning’s shooting at the nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Maybe it’s because with 50 deaths so far and more than 50 injuries, it’s the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. Maybe it’s because this is the 133rd mass shooting in 2016. Maybe it’s because the urgent plea to enact more stringent gun control measures seems inadequate.

No one knows for certain if this was technically a hate crime (Pulse is a gay club)–although, I would contend that anyone who opens fire on a crowd of people is committing a hate crime. And though the details are still nebulous, the young man who mowed down all of those unfortunate souls seems to have pledged allegiance to ISIS.

All we seem able to do is cry out, Gun Control! A refrain invoked after every mass shooting in the hopes that it will be the panacea the U.S. needs to rid itself of all this death.

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Let’s take a brief respite from the news of the day and travel to the gorgeous land that surrounds Taos, New Mexico. I was there this past weekend and enjoyed the cool breezes, the elephantine flowers bursting upward in fiery oranges and fragile whites, the delicious food, and the impressive variety of wine at Black Mesa Winery. I stopped by a tiny shop wedged in amongst dozens of other shops that flanked the square. It was packed with New Mexican goods like riestras and countless jars of red and green chile.

I picked up this lovely hand-painted saint on a thin piece of wood that spoke to me. Saint

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St. Francis, Patron Saint of birds, stigmata…

Francis, Patron Saint of small animals, children, and kindness, or so the tiny painted words claim. All three categories work for meand made me inexplicably content. I hung it up next to my front door today and discovered there was a scripture seared into the backside. It was titled, San Francisco’s Prayer:

Lord make me an instrument / of your peace. / Where there is hatred, / let me sow love, / Where there is doubt, faith, / Where there is despair, hope, / Where there is sadness, joy.

When I read this, I immediately thought of the 50 people just…gone…in the wee hours of this morning, and those 50 people’s families and friends who didn’t see this coming and didn’t get to say goodbye. This was not all my petit saint had to say on the matter, though. The prayer continued:

Oh Divine Master, grant that I / may not so much seek to be / consoled, as to console; / To be understood as to / understand; / To be loved as to love, / For it is in giving that we / receive, / It is pardoning that we are / pardoned / And it is in dying that we are / born into eternal life.

Over the course of this past year, I’ve been raked over the coals and cried until I could hardly see out from my swollen eyelids and felt like a failure and felt lonely and homesick and felt enraged. Over time, I’ve also felt rested and at peace and redeemed and loved and inspired and consoled and hopeful and daring. And through it all I have often asked for consolation through my writing and from my readers. I’ve desperately sought to be understood. I’ve asked to be loved.

I’ve only begun to emerge from the dark cocoon of grief and depression that has nipped at my heels for more than a year now. My rebirth has come from the wealth of support I’ve received, yes; but even more so, it’s come from reaching outside of myself, even when I thought I wasn’t strong enough to bear another’s burdens in addition to my own. To console another in need, to seek to understand them, to love them, to give and to pardon–this may be the secret to happiness.

But now back to the news of the day.

The empathy pouring out from all around in response to the Pulse massacre is, I hope, muffling the din of reactionary rage to the horrifying sudden ceasing of life. But is that enough?

Is gun control the answer when a 29-year-old U.S. citizen legally purchases firearms to destroy so many lives? Let me phrase this differently: Did he open fire because he could legally acquire these firearms? Is it really so simple as that?

People don’t shoot up clubs, movie theaters, schools, etc., because they can; otherwise, we’d all be crazed gunmen. So if it turns out to be true that this man ascribed to the deranged mission of ISIS, then what? Is that enough? Does that adequately explain how a baby grew (“he grew and he grew and he grew”) until he was a nine-year-old boy and then a teenager and finally a grown up man that took away so much from so many people all at once? It’s right that we’re talking about guns. And we should also be asking why anyone would choose this path. And when it’s not ISIS–because we’ve had a bevy of non-ISIS shooters–what then?

I have no answers, only a thin strip of wood with tiny painted words that softly urge me to love, to console, to give, to seek to understand, to pardon.

Three tea lights flicker in my lantern tonight accompanied by the high, mournful wails of peacocks in the highest branches of the nearby cottonwood trees. Tonight, as LGBTQ communities around the U.S. hold candlelight vigils, each flickering candle symbolizes hope in the midst of despair and love in the midst of hatred.

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