Last Sunday morning I didn’t say anything about the terrorist attack at an Orlando nightclub. I’d convinced myself that I just didn’t know enough as to what happened, but I knew from the first reports that what occurred was vile and gruesome, not to mention horribly routine and predictable.
I didn’t say anything because I didn’t know what to say. What happened early that morning has become so commonplace that words just don’t work anymore. That’s problematic for TV anchors, presidents and preachers because people look to them, to us, for some words of encouragement, words that make sense of such horror, words that might guide us in a better direction. We try to put things in perspective without seeming overly pious or simplistic, and of course we shouldn’t be too political. However, that becomes more challenging with each terror attack, with each slaughter of innocent, unsuspecting people who are essentially just like us.
But still plenty of words are expressed, just as I guess I’m doing now. Words about tolerance and solidarity, about avoiding sweeping indictments of entire religious or ethnic groups, about how this time things will be different, which we fear is probably not true. Those words and expressions ring more and more hollow for me with each tragic incident. Of course we’ll Pray for Orlando, the generic slogan of this attack; for the victims and those who grieve the violent loss of loved ones. We say again that love will conquer hate, that we won’t give in, that we’ll stand against intolerance and terror and fear. The U.S. Senate will have its obligatory moment of silence, flags will be lowered, church bells will ring, the names of the victims will be proclaimed, memorial services will be held. And then what?
There have been a few differences this time, none of them particularly encouraging. Coming as this does in the midst of a remarkably curious presidential campaign, claims true and false were almost immediately being tossed around. Nothing, it seems, is off limits when it comes to bashing an opponent, putting oneself first, gaining a political advantage. The plethora of words, too many ill-chosen, only proved to exacerbate the horror.
My personal moment of consternation came at the gym two days after the attack. Three guys were talking about how the country was going to hell and about how more of these things were going to happen. You know in Arizona, one of them observed, everyone walks around with guns on their hips. That’s what we all should do, said another. It’s the only way we’ll be safe. The third man seemed to concur. First of all, I hope that’s not how things are in Arizona. More to the point, I shudder to think of life in such a place; I know it’s not where I’d want to be. Of course I didn’t say anything. It wasn’t really my place, I wasn’t part of the conversation. And I really didn’t have the words I thought would matter. TL