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Orlando's Pulse

July 14th, 2016 (10:21 am)

Being in Orlando recently, we couldn't help but think about the shocking massacre two weeks earlier at the Pulse nightclub, where a gunman murdered 49 innocent people and injured 53 others. Over the course of our visit, we stayed in hotels in three parts of the city, all of them tourism centers with cultures of aggressive happiness (Sea World, Universal, and Disney) so we weren't at first aware of blatant reminders of the murders. But even in the land of a thousand amusement parks, you could see signs of grief and attempts at healing, if you looked for them.

Slogans such as "Orlando Strong" appeared frequently around the city. I know some people think this kind of support from strangers is meaningless, but I believe that people who are shocked and saddened are reaching for something they can do, something that makes them feel less helpless and more connected. Wearing a rainbow ribbon today to say, "I want to be part of the solution," may translate later into actions that really can make a difference. Even nature seemed supportive. On the road one day, I caught this shot of a car proclaiming solidarity across its rear window ("ORLANDOLOVE") as a rainbow arched overhead.

The next day, we set out to find three Little Free Libraries in the Lancaster Park neighborhood, not far from the Pulse. We didn't know where the nightclub was and hadn't intended to visit it. But I chose the LFLs in this particular neighborhood in part because I wanted to photograph this plaque affixed to Little Free Library #38094:

It reads:
      In Remembrance of the Pulse Victims.
      May knowledge teach us to
      LOVE one another.
      Spread knowledge...
      Spread the LOVE.
      Charter #38094

On the way back to our hotel, we stopped for lunch at an Einstein Bagels. We had come in through the back entrance, and it wasn't until we were settled at our table in a front window that I realized we sat across the street from the Pulse nightclub, now the site of a large memorial made up of offerings left by family and friends of the victims and by others wanting to show support. After lunch we crossed the street to pay our respects and to explain to our son why it's important to remember such appalling acts of hate and injustice and to work for tolerance, peace, and understanding.

The bagel shop was doing its part to be a good neighbor, too.

It was heartbreaking to see the tributes left in honor of the people whose lives were taken that day. Signs, paintings, flowers, cupcakes, notes, flags, articles of clothing, stuffed animals, candles, flags, and balloons lay everywhere, each one of them full of meaning for the victims, for those who loved them, and even for strangers like us who were honored to see a tiny glimpse into the lives of the slain and the grief of their families.

More photos:

I'd heard there was a backlash in the city, with a small group of people blaming all Muslims for the violence. But the messages at the site that day were overwhelmingly positive, calling for healing and remembrance, not hatred and vengeance.

The eggshell blue paper by the pink teddy bear in the above photo contains a poem by an unknown author:

The tide recedes
      but leaves behind
            bright seashells on the sand.

The sun goes down, but gentle warmth
      still lingers on the land.
The music stops and yet it echoes
      on in sweet refrains...
For every joy that passes
      something beautiful remains.

When the flowers have withered, the signs have faded, and the teddy bears have been donated, remember this act of violence and so many others that plague so many cities and towns across the country. I hope we can turn our grief and fear into action. That action can be big or small. It can be local or global. Write a letter to the editor, join a campaign for sensible gun control, teach English to immigrant children, register voters, deliver meals to refugees, donate money to PFLAG, speak out at a city council meeting.... We don't all have to agree on every issue, but we all must be willing to find a way — any way that works for us — to help turn back the tide of violence and hate.