By Amanda Moreno
I’ve been struggling all evening with what to write about in light of another massacre, and then how to write about it seeing as I’m at a loss for words. The thing that keeps popping into my mind is how many times I’ve had to write about shootings and similar massacres in the two years I’ve been writing for Planet Waves. I can’t believe we’re here again, and yet… here we are. I just have to close my eyes and breathe.
I didn’t really respond emotionally to this shooting until Tuesday — two days after the fact. I talked with a friend about it on Monday and we both remarked on the feeling of surreality and numbness.
Tuesday, however, as I climbed the hill towards my office, which is nestled in Seattle’s ‘gay’ neighborhood, in the home of the oldest LGBTQ mental health agency in the world, I could feel the waves of grief wafting down to greet me.
The shock began to melt into feeling as I met with my boss and later attended a staff meeting that had been called specifically to give the staff a chance to be together while being fed. Never underestimate the power of having someone else take care of things like food in a time of trauma.
I sat there with my coworkers, the majority of whom identify as some brand of queer and many of whom are people of color. It was then that my heart began to break.
One of the things I’ve grappled with in the past is that when these shootings happen, I feel a sense of distance that is somewhat dismaying and yet a blessing at the same time. I usually get a hit of the collective grief, say some prayers and let it all run through, but I fear at some level that I’m being desensitized. That fear of desensitization came home to roost even more this time around, as I felt totally detached. Perhaps it was just shock.
But then, sitting in that space where I could so acutely feel the many layers of emotion swimming all around and through me, amongst the members of a community I’ve been dedicated to working with for eight years, I listened to my coworkers and dear friends open up about their sadness and anger and their fears of being targeted at work or at our upcoming Pride celebrations. I cried as others pointed out their urge to be more fully out and proud and loving.
I realized how much this event has triggered prior experiences of being persecuted, stigmatized and often emotionally and physically assaulted for being different. I realized the complexity of intersectionality and how many layers there are to this event.
I recognized the power and preciousness of the fact that the entire agency is holding space for community members to come in to grieve and process, while at the same time being aware that this space is being held by people going through those same processes. I felt humbled — and I felt my heart breaking in a way that didn’t feel desperate or bottomless. Instead, I felt full of a heart-achingly bittersweet love. I realized that while my heart goes out to the victims in Orlando and their loved ones, my heart is in, and hurting and crying for, my community here in Seattle.
It hit me then — it’s my community this time. As I witnessed and felt other people’s grief, anger and fear I just wanted to be there to let it flow through me and to hold space and be fully present. It was a profound and exhausting heartbreak that was all at once detached and yet consuming.
Then something else hit me — the same thing that always rises to the surface for me in any of our too-frequent collective moments of despair — but much stronger this time. I was overwhelmed with how much I love these people and this community. Finally, words came: I love you all so, so, so, so, so, so much.
I left that office and went to my next job, at a metaphysical shop in the same neighborhood. The emotional landscape there was similarly intense and palpable. Once again, it was marked by the experience of community coming together to process and love — with more hugs this time. The essence inside me remained the same: just love. Love through this with all you are. Keep loving as much as you can.
A friend came in remarking that on Saturday she had just wanted to preach to the world that love is the only way, and that now she understands why she’d had that urge.
So yes, it’s true — this is not the first time I’ve had to address a shooting in this space. But it’s also true that this is not the first time an experience has been distilled down to one essential personal truth. Each event brings home the necessity of unconditional, and sometimes detached, love and my own personal belief that the only antidote and the only way through all of this remains the same: keep loving; love harder, love bigger, love more; just keep loving. When the shock and grief and anger begin to lift, keep dancing. Keep celebrating. Keep finding and creating spaces of radical inclusion that foster our ability to be as authentic as possible.
Being part of the queer community has been so important in my own efforts to figure out and follow through with my own unique spark of being, in all my outside-the-box ways. It’s also a community that tends to focus on holding space for grief and processing and communication, and I’m so very grateful for that.
I realize not everyone can get on board with the ‘just look for love in it’ mantra, and that some of us need to go through the anger and rage, but for me the only thing that makes sense is to hold space in the name of radical love and compassion. I am not afraid of death. I am not afraid of being targeted. So perhaps the biggest stand I can take is to keep being wildly and unapologetically myself in all of my queer glory, in hopes that through doing just that I help to make space for others to do the same.