This is my city. The city where a mouse makes dreams come true and the rides of Harry Potter thrill relentlessly. Dolphins dance for crowds and a whole world is created of Legos. It is also the city where hate took 49 lives. One man took judgment into his hands and broke the happiest place on earth.
This is my city, and it is the City Beautiful.
Several times a week I drive by a club named Pulse. The streets where I often work at Starbucks are lined with rainbow banners. I see two men eating breakfast outside, their dog sleeping at their feet. Two women play at the park with their child. Our pharmacist, who might as well be family, tells us his partner is doing well in the banking field. The LGBT community in Orlando is strong. There is freedom, acceptance, strength and support.
This community has very specific faces to me. It is my pharmacist, my former hairdresser, the server at the Thai tea shop. It is my barista, my favorite checker at Target and one of my daughter’s friends from school.
Those faces are filled with fear and grief today. Hatred was taken to a whole new level.
On Sunday, just hours after hearing the news, I am in the parking lot of Target. The big red bus is parked in its usual spot. Only today it doesn’t have to offer the usual movie tickets to get the donations it needs. The temperature rises to near 100, and literally hundreds fill the parking lot waiting to give blood. They will be there for hours, but none will leave. The City Beautiful will care for its own.
Twenty-four hours later, I make my usual drive to buy meat and veggies. There is no avoiding the helicopters buzzing overhead. Pulse is only a few blocks away. My city has been invaded. Cameras and reporters are everywhere. They have set up camp at the end of the blocked-off road. Geraldo is reporting from the hospital where the surgeons fixed my back and my friend fights cancer. The place feels personal to me, and it’s being invaded.
I drive home from my market, and I pass the Medical Examiner’s Office. At the time, 24 families still hadn’t heard the news they both needed and didn’t want. Crowds are gathered by the door, and it just feels too much. The weight of grief is so very heavy. These families are not abstract people mentioned on the news. I see them standing in the hot sun just 20 feet from me. Wanting to wake up from a nightmare.
If I am honest, I have to confess I have thought often about the likelihood of hearing the news we heard Sunday morning. Sixty million people visit my city every year. Fear seems the most crippling monster to a city committed to creating a fairytale reality.
But I never thought it would look like this. I never thought such explosive evil would be unleashed at a bar. I can not fathom such hate.
This is my city. A terrorist attacked the very streets where I do life. He tried to stir hate, but my city won’t stand for it. We will not let his incomprehensible actions define us.
We will love.
We will give blood until the big red bus closes its doors. We will stand with the LGBT community and tell them they are loved. We will cry with our neighbors over the loss of innocence our city has suffered. We will carry the financial burdens of families who can not pay to put their lost ones in the ground. We will cook and clean and light candles and sing and pray.
The City Beautiful will shine even brighter, but with a rawness one can not know without walking through the unthinkable. Our service and kindness and love will unite our city beautiful. We have faced evil together, but we will be the victors.
This is my city.