On the table was one paper with one name: Ramon.
We had already clutched the tiny candles in foil holders. We’d sung We Shall Overcome and We are A Gentle Angry People. We had prayed with a rabbi, imam and pastor. We’d listened to name after name, so many young men, some women, but mostly men, spoken aloud into the sacred silence. Most of the vigil attendees had already filed into the garden, planting 49 rainbow flags into the earth.
I was in the back of the church, empty now, standing near a table with white candles, yellow ribbons and tiny rainbow flags. There was a stack of papers that stated “In memory of:” for mourners to share the name of a loved one lost in Orlando. Most copies were left blank, except for one. The name Ramon scrawled upon it in blue ink.
I did not realize until I saw his name how numb I had become to this violence. To hearing about another deranged killer who killed four in a workplace, killed two in a university, killed thirteen on an army base. Killed. Killed. Killed. Over a thousand killed since Sandy Hook, nearly 4,000 injured. Sandy Hook somehow marked the turning point. We let those babies die, gunned down in a school (a school, God help us), but life strangely proceeded as normal. Deep in our being we knew that Sandy Hook mattered because we used it to frame the rest. Since Sandy Hook. Before Sandy Hook. Sandy Hook mattered, somehow, but we let our President plead and shed tears alone before a podium. We did nothing. I did nothing.
I read Ramon’s name and, eyes welled with tears, filed out of the church with my my husband and daughter toward the memorial garden. People stood around in small groups. My daughter, three, twirled a tiny rainbow flag. I hung back behind the crowds but overheard a young man thank our pastor. “I lost two friends in Orlando,” he stated simply.
I have the privilege of being on the periphery of this tragedy, both geographically (I live three hours from Orlando) and emotionally. I read Ramon’s name but did not know him. I overheard a young man, a member of my community, state that he lost two friends, but I did not lose any loved ones. I can sit and write about this because I am not gripped by grief and trauma like so many families who must cope with devastating loss, trying to process a loved one’s violent death. I am compelled to write because for too long my heart was surrounded by a wall that said, we are helpless. This is hopeless. Our country will never change. We are too divided.
Last week I listened to a Here and Now interview with an Orlando gun shop owner. I bristled near the beginning of the segment as the man tried to claim that guns have as much to do with terrorism as planes do, but I suppressed the urge to turn off the program. I was surprised to find out that I actually see eye-to-eye somewhat with the man who makes a living selling guns. He questioned how someone on an FBI watch list can have access to a gun. He said as a gun shop owner he wants increased access to information about whether someone purchasing a gun is mentally ill and violent.
I don’t know where we go from here. What I didn’t know until I attended the vigil was that it was important for me to read Ramon’s name. To cry publicly. To feel righteous anger. To call my Republican Senator (every day for five days) even if I didn’t think he would support reasonable gun control measures. (He didn’t.) To listen to people I don’t always agree with. To transform the righteous anger to real change so that someday we may say, since Orlando, things have changed.