“I will happily embrace a Latin night at a gay club at the theme park capital of the world as the ultimate symbol of what is truly wonderful about America.” – John Oliver, Last Week Tonight
It has taken me a long time (too long, I would say) for me to even begin putting down my thoughts about the recent tragedy in Orlando, Florida. The reason for that, I would say, is that there are just so many angles from which to look and talk about what happened and the implications that such a tragedy has for us as individuals, us as a country, and globally.
I could attack the political angle, but I have decided against that. The only thing that I will say is that, whatever you believe, please reach out to the representatives of your region and state and urge them to take action to help prevent further tragedies from happening. The worst action we can take at this point is no action.
From a personal standpoint, incidents such as this always make me remember how much hate is left in the world. I grew up not ten minutes from the site of the Sandy Hook tragedy, live barely a half an hour from where the shootings in Aurora and Columbine took place, went to college in a state that was still reeling from Virginia Tech, and just recently discovered that my sister knew several victims of the Orlando massacre. While I did not know the victims of any of these horrible events personally, I have witnessed how entire communities are forever marred by the senseless loss of life that seems to happen over and over in this country. I am consistently distressed by how the actions of such a minuscule minority of hateful beings can create such long-lasting pain and suffering in so many.
Specifically, with Orlando, I am reminded that although I have born witness to strife and tragedy in my life, the fact remains that I have never been fearful for my own life just because I was living it. I have never had to be afraid to love or be who I am. I am reminded that I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by some of the most accepting and loving people in the world. I am reminded that very few are as fortunate as I and that, when I am given the chance, I should make a point of showing the same compassion to others, because so many in this world do live in some amount of fear.
Conversely, there is always an outpouring of love and support from across the world that reminds you that the good people vastly outnumber the bad. I was in the middle of Bonnaroo when news of Orlando broke – an event whose very foundation is built around the mantra “radiate positivity”. Meanwhile, Pride month continued on in major cities across America, people lined up to donate blood to the injured, and people took to the internet to express their condolences and demand action. It doesn’t stop these things from happening, nor does it even come close to eclipsing the tragedy of the event, but it does give me hope. It helps me to be reminded that, through all the horrible things that have happened and will happen, there are still truly good people out there.
Finally, I am forced to look forward and wonder what yet another American tragedy will mean during my time in Rwanda. How is news of great violence in another part of the world received by the Rwandan people – many of whom have personally experienced inconceivable tragedy in their own lifetimes? Is it something that is even noticed and discussed, or am I simply stuck looking through my Western lens, as every American news channel fills with pictures of Orlando and the Pride festivals happening across the country. Should another tragedy occur, how can I discuss the events from a faraway land with people in Rwanda in a productive manner? Should there even be a discussion? I have probed current and past volunteers from across the world for some answers, but the responses are simply too manifold to make sense of. Like so many instances with the Peace Corps, the best response seems to be “it depends”.
I will live with the hope that I will not have to provide perspective on these questions in the coming years, because that would mean that another tragedy has happened back home. But, should something come to pass, I will focus on the good people of the world and hope to open a discourse that can not only bring about increased intercultural understanding, but maybe even help more people understand why violence in all forms simply has to stop.