As we know, it has been a week, and it has felt like a year, and it seems as though the event, the incident, the unspeakable tragedy has happened over and over and over again as I peruse facebook, grasping at articles and statuses and emoji.
I didn’t know if I should write a post. Frankly, why should I be speaking when I don’t identify as a member of the LBGTQ community, as Latinx, as Muslim, or really as marginalized in pretty much any sense of the word. And yet, if I am silent, I get to hide. I don’t have to worry about my own identity in danger at this moment. So if I go about my normal daily life without writing or speaking or extending my hand, it feels like ignorance and well, bliss of ignorance. So I would like to recount my week here in Boston and what I have learned. In this post, all of my friends and colleagues are kept anonymous because safety is not something to take lightly right now.
Monday felt long. The facebook world mourned and screamed and felt both as though a thousand things happened at once and nothing could happen because everyone sat in paralysis. At my university, we tried to decide how to respond to Orlando. I read articles that friends and colleagues posted on social media, and stayed quiet for most of the day.
Tuesday my colleagues worked on a response to Orlando and I felt the fresh pain of the tragedy bump up against institution. I heard individuals share their needs and others wonder about the needs of “the university”. As my coworker noted, “Just because you are in mourning doesn’t mean you can’t cause violence.” And I struggled to think about balancing a public display with the safety of those in the most pain. Sometimes vigils and public gatherings that are highly ritualized can be helpful as a starting point- we light candles, perhaps listen to readings or speeches or music, and hold some silence. This helps us set aside a time that is not normal, not part of the daily grind, recognizing that the lives touched by untimely death will never be the same.
Sometimes, order reminds us all too well that oppression is present in orderliness, in ritual, in public spaces. For many members of the LGBTQ community, religion represents oppression in the form of ritual and order. From separating gender in worship to hearing the words of old privileged men condemn the sins of those who do not comply with dogma, ritual and tradition remind many that they are not welcome, that they are who we pray for, that they are the ones who need saving. And yet, the first precept in my tradition reminds me not to take any one dogma as truth: the world is impermanent, after all, and who the hell am I to say what’s right has always been and will be? Furthermore, public vigils take a public stand. They say, “we do not accept the events that transpired, and thus, we are mourning.” Public vigils put individuals in the spotlight and these individuals do not come from equal places of safety. For the LGBTQ community and other marginalized people, safety is not guaranteed, and sometimes a public space creates a heightened sense of danger. The 50 murdered and even more injured in Orlando were murdered in a place that felt safe.
On Wednesday I attended a big staff meeting. I listened to a presentation about students’ experiences with racism and discrimination. The presentation and subsequent conversations allowed me to reflect on my own college experience, and I realized how the experience of students at my current university remind me of instances in which my friends experienced racism, oppression, and violence because they are Latinx, immigrants, or Muslim. My friends never explained or spoke about racism. We didn’t have that vocabulary or example. As women we assumed that we really did deserve to be catcalled because of what we wore. Only in the past few years have I learned that oppression is really an iceberg, that only a small piece is overt.
On Friday, I attended a Teach-In at the Law School and wrote eleven whole pages of notes in just under two hours. Law School faculty offered short reflections on topics like the Gay Nightclub, Islamophobia, and the history of HIV/AIDS in the United States. About fifty people sat on couches and chairs in the Law School commons, many queer, and shared personal experiences. Some cried, and the space felt somewhat safe despite all the factors. Folks shared that this tragedy hit so hard because the nightclub IS a sacred space for the queer community- it is a place where individuals can go, dance, drink, and be who they are. I immediately wondered, where is my safe space? And further realized, after having some trouble naming one, that my privilege prevents me from having just one. Safety is a privilege, and not one that many feel by default. This past week in a somewhat unrelated conversation with an international student, I asked the student if he felt like people in our office treated us differently. Us: me, a white, American-born woman, he, an Indian national man. The student said yes, of course he felt as though he is treated differently, but that it didn’t matter much. He shared that experiences with threats of violence and suspicious looks on the train and on the street (public spaces) because of his head covering has made him less sensitive to “being treated differently” because in the scheme of things, physical safety takes precedence over words and microaggressions. I tilted my head, thinking deeply.
As I listened to professors debate statistics and make brilliant point after brilliant point around gun violence, mass public shootings, and after witnessing the unflagging courage of queer individuals stand up to comments like “it’s not so bad out there, we don’t need to walk around afraid all the time”, I silently committed myself to a few things as I scribbled pages and pages. For this whole week, I wondered, what can I do, being a non-marginalized individual, wanting justice, wanting to care for the people I love?
I committed to keep reading. Through this week I have read about guns and gun control, how institutions perpetuate violence, and statistics that paint a picture unique from politicians narratives (on any side, frankly). And I have barely scratched the surface. Yes, there’s a great amount of crap on the internet, but with my reflective lens on, I think it’s worthwhile to hear many folks out right now.
In a similar fashion, I committed to listen. The folks targeted by this tragedy have been very brave and forthcoming about what they need- everything from food to being blunt about who loves them. I can’t even imagine the exhaustion, not just this week, but every day, for many. Being a person of faith and an individual who believes that ending the suffering of others is a duty means listening and acting on these needs.
And I commit to being compassionate, the obvious, the “duh”…But in all seriousness, compassion is almost impossible sometimes. In this moment, in the days to come, my job is to hold the suffering and mourning responsibly, to remember that pain can cause more pain. Sending metta, and lovingkindness. May all beings be free.