I have not written about Orlando.
I have not written about Orlando because I am still pondering, processing. And in a world where the urgent gets buried in the trivial and news becomes old before there’s even time to read it, processing can be hard to prioritize.
I have not written about Orlando because Orlando happened Sunday, and Sunday I was drinking Negronis and eating tacos and catching dragonflies and talking to neighbors while hundreds of parents, co-workers, best friends and roommates were hopelessly weeping for the lives of their brothers and sisters.
I am not sure how to respond, but in light of what I’ve seen (and not seen) from the rest of my world, this is what I feel I should share.
Three years ago I moved from Kansas City, Kansas (by way of Lincoln, Nebraska) to Oakland, California; from a small community just north of the Bible belt to a great big state that was founded by misfits and dreamers. My first roommate was a poet. He was brilliant and thoughtful, gracious, generous and a little absent-minded. Whenever we hosted parties (which was often, but not as often as we meant to) he’d be sure to stock the bar. When we woke around the same time in the morning, he’d automatically put on the kettle. He liked to walk around Lake Merritt (only going clockwise) and spent a lot of time in bars writing sonnets that could reconfigure the human spirit. He bought me drinks when I was sad and made me coffee when I was fatigued. My first birthday in California, we threw a brunch in our apartment and he invited all of his friends because I didn’t have any of my own.
He was a good roommate and an even better friend. He was pivotal to my transition to California. And he was and is gay.
This is not strange or even unexpected here in Oakland, here in California. Here in 2016 within an expressive artistic community. But it was unexpected for me, and unprecedented among the places I came from.
Gay was not something that was condoned in the church I grew up in. Within that doctrine homosexuality is seen as sinful and wrong. It is an affront to Biblical principles that were a primary part of my upbringing. This is not really a problem when you are surrounded by like-minded people in a relatively homogenous community. What you believe about an “other” or an “outsider” makes little difference for as long as they stay outside.
I was mid-way into my 20s when my first friend came out as gay, and though I had since gone to college and traveled and developed my own opinions, I didn’t know how to respond. In part because it’s a sensitive subject, our sexuality being so key to our sense of identity, and in part because I didn’t know how. Because what I believed about rightness and divine intention was at odds with what I believed about love and judgement.
During my first two years in Oakland, I made frequent visits to see my devoutly Lutheran godparents (who are really, truly wonderful people). I had many discussions about California and Christianity, about the church I am currently attending and the views it may or may not hold when it comes to the morality of San Francisco. There were disagreements about politics, demonstrations and “the homosexual agenda,” as my godfather put it. I expressed my perspectives. I shared my opinions. But I never once mentioned that my roommate was gay. I can’t really articulate why.
I believe that gay people (or any “people” who are set apart by gender, race, religion or other political distinction) are first and foremost people, which can be a surprisingly hard basis to establish.
I’m not sure why this is the case.
I’m not sure why anyone is labeled as anything before they are labeled as “human,” a distinction that itself carries so much weight it bears grappling with before any secondary or tertiary label is considered. Being human is no small thing. A human life is no mere number. As C. S. Lewis so aptly notes,
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.” (The Weight of Glory)
Five days since Orlando, what I am left with is this: that in the wee hours of Sunday morning some 50 immortal beings were prematurely thrust from the present into eternity; and while I believe in an eternity in which all things are made right, a brutal death is not something I would choose for my brothers or sisters in this world. Nor for their families or friends or anyone who chanced to connect with the reflection of Divinity within them.
This is what it means to be human—to recognize that each and every one of us is of infinite and equal value. This is not always how we see one another and it is certainly not how we treat one another, but it is nonetheless true. The woman who signs your paycheck and the man who begs for your change: equal value. The senator elected to office and the girl taking ballots at the poling station: equal value. The dude who cuts you off on the freeway and the kids running circles in the park: equal value.
Can we please learn this?
Can we please remember this?
Can we respond to the people around us, remembering that each of them is human?
The most direct path to wholeness does not begin with an argument, but an agreement.