The Wonderings of Kate
When the story of the Orlando shootings hit the news, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. It was a full day before I could even begin to look at the coverage. Each word was like a blow. The son texting “mommy I am going to die” and the anguish in the eyes and voices of the survivors and those searching frantically for news, any news, of their friends and loved ones.
It was the faces of the victims, as their images began to emerge on social media, that made my chest cave in with shock. Mostly young men of color, some barely out of their teens, most identifying within the LGBT community. Like my eldest son. I see us in the video clip of the young man visiting from Puerto Rico, cooking dinner in the kitchen with his mother hours before he died. Full of life, about to embark on careers, advancing their education, meeting the love of their lives, living life with full expression. Unafraid and unabashed to follow their hearts.
And now they are all gone. Snuffed out like so many candles. The vigils, the memorials, the moments of silence, the Pride events that took place on the afternoon of that dreadful day, all bear witness to the collective horror and indescribable loss. But when those are over, and their babies are laid to rest, the mothers’ grief remains.
I see this collective grief as a pond. Still but easily disturbed by a pebble hitting the surface. The pebble could be a baby photo, a tiny plaster of Paris handprint, that last text, the final Instagram post. And what of the energy left behind by all these young and vibrant souls? It flutters around the mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, friends and spouses. My deepest wish is that a little of that energy settles into the psyche of those left behind.
Is there some sort of message in this tragedy? Mothers have been burying their children since human beings decided to lay hands upon one another in hate and anger. In so many ways, this is yet another manifestation of the inhumanity that lives among us.
Smith Mountain Lake, Moneta, Virginia September 2015
I’ve already visited too many memorial sites, read too many heart-wrenching tributes and had too many “there but for the grace of the universe” moments. I grew up in a little town in Connecticut, just a few miles from Newtown, the site of the Sandy Hook massacre. I have friends who live in that town, and family members who work in that school system. I was running the Boston Marathon when the bombs went off at the finish line. I stood on the same wooden planks of the marina in Moneta, Virginia two days before a reporter and cameraman were gunned down on live television.
Boston April 2014
The sorrow runs deep in the mothers’ pond. I myself have barely touched my toe in that water and the sadness is almost unbearable. I cannot begin to imagine the torment of the mothers who will swim those waters every day for the rest of their lives.
My middle son is matter of fact. He says that it is no longer a matter of if, but when. When the evil comes in the door, he tells me that he hopes the WiFi in his high school will permit him one last text to me, as there is virtually no cellphone coverage in the building and no one will be able to call 911. My youngest describes in detail precisely how he will overpower anyone who breaches his classroom and goes on to say that the teachers have trained them in how to stay alive. I sure hope they have and that, heaven forbid, the unthinkable happens, my boys will be resourceful enough to protect themselves. I teach them to always know where the exits are and to listen to their inner voice if it tells them something is not right. I take them to visit Shanksville.
But what is the message from Orlando? It is certainly not about politics or gun control, although I would dearly love to see an assault weapon ban in this country. I go back to the vacuum of the life force of the 49 young people who died last Sunday. I imagine their vibrancy holding us up, helping to spread tolerance and teach vigilance. I envision their dark brown eyes looking into our souls and pleading with us not to fear and not to succumb to hatred of those who are different from us, to help our children understand that life is meant to be lived in peace and that the lone wolf attackers are unstable individuals who have been infused with violence. I feel these beautiful spirits urging our children to live their lives in courage and with conviction. I see them dipping the water, little by little, out of the pond of sorrow by letting their mothers know their lives were too short, but well lived and loved.