Orlando, Florida, is the home of theme parks and “magical” playgrounds and the self-proclaimed “happiest place on earth.” Today the name means something else. Today, that word “Orlando” means the site of the worst mass-shooting in American history.
The shooter was a wife-beater who hated gays and, apparently, was an enthusiastic fan of various rival terrorist factions and death cults. Neither his domestic violence nor his admiration for violent terrorism had any bearing on his ability to legally purchase an AR-15 death machine, so this murderer was armed like a soldier when he arrived at the Pulse nightclub, a gay club where more than 300 people were enjoying a Latin-night dance party this weekend. He pushed the button on his death machine and kept pushing that button until 50 people were dead and another 43 had been seriously injured.
So here we are again on the day after such horror. The enormity of the loss is crushing, seeming to divide the world into before and after. And once again the unbearable after seems like it will be a world more like the one that these hateful little men with their death machines wanted and imagined. More death, more fear, more hate, more violence to protect us from violence.
I do not want to live in a world shaped by such hateful little men. We must do something. Something must be done. But whoever that “we” is and whatever that “something” turns out to be, I want the world to change in ways that these hateful little men could never have imagined. If our after is to be different than it was before, let it be different in ways that make the world less like the world they seek to impose with their death machines.
This can be hard to describe because these men have cheapened our language just as they have cheapened life and death. Speaking of their opposites sounds like hollow platitudes, and yet it’s necessary to name these things. I think of the famous prayer associated with St. Francis:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
Don’t think of that as a prayer, but as a map and a compass. It points us toward the opposite of the world that the hateful little men seek to impose with their death machines. It points us toward the after we should be seeking to create in the wake of their attempts to destroy.
Such words — love, hope, light, joy — may sound like cheap abstractions, but we can make them real and concrete and tangible. We can make them more real than hate and fear could ever be.
That includes policy and law — such as fighting to change the perverse idea that wife-beating fans of terrorism have an absolute right to military weaponry. But it also includes much more. Our response to horrors such as this shouldn’t be to seek a single correction. There is no single correction that can fix all that is broken or keep such horrors from happening again. But the many changes we seek should all point in a single direction — in the opposite direction of the fear and hate of these hateful little men.
“And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love,” the playwright said, like a pointing finger. We can study that finger and dismiss that as only a hollow, empty word. Or we can start walking in the direction it’s pointing.