Having just come home from Orlando, the dream from which I woke this morning didn’t take six years of graduate school and a Ph.D. In clinical psychology to figure out. The meaning was plain, and it is the lesson of Pulse: we are none of us safe, until we are all safe.
I was in a large, enclosed space, with lots of other people. A faceless man with a gun was methodically walking around shooting people, once each, whether fatal or not dependent only on the shooter’s whim. His movements were deliberate, cold, and calculated, in contrast to the chaotic mayhem of terrified people running in every direction, seeking escape that was not to be found.
Some of the other people in the room had guns, and thought to defend themselves. They thought they were safe. He shot them first.
I thought I was being remarkably cool. I was not afraid. I watched the pattern of movements, and watched the shooter, convinced that I could move in just the right ways to avoid being shot. Maybe, if I had the chance, I could get close enough to stop him. When he came near but I couldn’t get to him, I hid behind already-wounded people. I was smart. I thought I was safe.
Until, that is, he walked right up to me, gun pointed at my head. As he started squeezing the trigger, he lowered the gun to shoot me in the knee, not out of mercy but because he wanted me to suffer. I woke, yelling out, his words – or were they simply my own thoughts? – ringing in my ears: “And you thought you could avoid suffering.”
Throughout, it never occurred to me that we would have been safter together, than alone.
Individual safety is an illusion we sell ourselves, in the futile belief that we can avoid suffering. I’ve watched it all week, in my Facebook feeds, on TV news, in Twitter feeds. Of interest, I saw this mostly from people who were not in, or from, Orlando. I remember the same phenomenon from when it happened in Chattanooga, closer to home.
“More guns, fewer gun-free zones, that’s what we need! Then we will be safe!”
“No, get rid of guns, that’s what we need! Then we will be safe!”
“No, ban Muslims, ban immigrants, bomb ISIL into oblivion, that’s what we need! Then we will be safe!”
Ban gays, belatedly embrace the LGBT community, offer up thoughts and prayers, if you’re in congress by all means avoid – again – any call for even the most reasonable of gun controls. Whatever it is that convinces you who and what is to blame, let your beliefs enfold you in the arms of a sleepy illusion that it won’t happen to you, because you’re not like them.
You’re not so sure about everyone else, but you will be safe.
Alas, we, none of us, gets out of here alive. We, none of us, avoids suffering and loss. Not alone at least.
We are none of us safe, until we are all safe.
And that is what makes the Pulse shooting such a hate crime against the LGBTQ community. What I heard over and over as I talked to people in Orlando was the loss of even the slightest illusion of safety. The violence done to 50 people who are dead, and the 50 or so more wounded, is but the tip of the iceberg compared to the violence done to the rest of the community. Everyone lost even the most tenuous of beliefs in personal safety. Listening to that, my heart broke.
Women are not safe in this country. Men and women in the LGBTQ community are not safe. People of color are not safe in this country. People of minority religions are not safe in this country. The poor are not safe.
Because they aren’t safe, none of us are safe.
I think it’s about fucking time we did something about that.
This is the lesson of Pulse: we are not safe until we are all safe. Hate doesn’t heal hate, love does.
This is the lesson of Pulse: none of us can stand by silent, so long as there are those who do not, out of hate, get a place at the table.
This is the lesson of Pulse: no one avoids suffering and loss, but we can make a difference if we are willing to be present for one another.
The only thing anyone seemed to really want from me in Orlando was to be a witness, to be willing to recognize this crime for what it was: a culmination of the everyday hate that we either perpetrate, or allow to happen. All that was asked of me was the willingness to be present, to acknowledge and be willing to hold the pain, together.
I didn’t do anything special in Orlando. I simply showed up, and listened, and heard.
I wonder how the world would be if we all expanded our capacity to be present for one another, just by a little, every day. I wonder how the world would be if we all spoke up for love, and against hate, whenever and wherever we encountered it.
I’m in. Will you join me?
Dr. Les Kertay