We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.
- Lin-Manuel Miranda
This is a little bit of a different post for me today, as I’m not writing to talk about books or even anything bookish-related. I’m writing this post today because I’ve had these thoughts kicking about in my head for a couple of days now and I hope that putting them down on paper (or a computer screen) will help me make some sense of them. Maybe, along the way, it will help some other people as well.
Many of you will already know that this past Sunday the worst mass shooting in the history of the United States took place at a night club in Orlando, Florida. Forty-nine people are dead, and a further 53 are wounded.
I was rather morose Monday morning as more and more tragic details emerged from this shooting, and, upon seeing my appearance, my younger sister asked me what was wrong. You know what her reply was, when I explained why I was upset? “That’s life.” That’s it. Two simple words, spoken in a cool, matter-of-fact tone. Two words, yet I don’t think I’ve ever felt so inspired, so motivated to write a response to any two words in my life.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not mad at my sister for what she said, not at all. What I’m mad about is that we live in a world where forty-nine people can be shot and killed and it’s a relatively normal thing. So normal, in fact, that my 14-year-old sister can calmly tell me to brush it off, that it’s “just life.” That’s life? Whose life?
I’m not mad at my sister, I’m mad at the reality she’s exposed to, at the world that she’s growing up in. I’m mad that we are raising a generation of young people who have grown up in a world where tragedies such as these have become commonplace, almost everyday occurrences. I’m mad that we live in a country where the smallest aspects of daily life have been forcibly transformed into heroic feats. You know what’s brave? Saving someone from a burning building. You know what’s not brave? Meeting your friend for drinks at a night club, or going to the movies, or even going to school. These simple activities shouldn’t require bravery, yet they do, and you know what? I’m mad about that. I’m furious about that.
I wish I could phrase my emotions more eloquently but I can’t, I’m sorry. I’m too mad to be eloquent, too angry to think clearly, too enraged to express myself more coherently. Forty-nine people are dead. I know forty-nine isn’t a very big number, not in the grand scheme of things, not compared to the casualties of war. But we’re not at war, and this is the Land of the Free, and “that’s life,” and so we continue our normal routines while there are forty-nine people who will never get to see their loved ones again, forty-nine people who will never again feel the warmth of the sun on their skin or get to take a breath of fresh air.
I’m not writing this because I have all the answers. I don’t know the best way to prevent future gun violence, nor do I know how to heal America in the wake of this terrible tragedy. In fact, I’m writing this post because I don’t have all the answers. I’m writing this because I’m scared and confused and sad and angry all the the same time, and I hope that by writing my thoughts down I might be able to make sense of all of these emotions. After all, isn’t that what the arts do best: help us understand and come to terms with the harsh realities of the world around us? If they’re unable to do that, the arts at least show us that we’re not alone, that other people feel the same way we do. The arts aren’t the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, they are the glimmering torch, the beacon of hope, that guides us through times of darkness. If you too are angry or scared, confused or lonely, let the arts guide you. Write, read, dance, paint, dream, scream into the void. Someone is listening. I’m listening. Know that you are never alone and that somehow, some way, we will all get through this together. Because that’s not life, not for you or me or those forty-nine people, and hate will never, ever, win.
I apologize again that this isn’t like my usual content, and I will be back in the next few days with some more book reviews. My thoughts go out to everyone directly and indirectly affected by the tragedies in Orlando. Thank you for reading.