My City Beautiful

Orlando shooting“Mommy, something is wrong with that flag”, Big Brother said as we rode to his swim lesson yesterday morning.

I glanced out the window to see a flag at half mast. Obviously, we’ve seen this before, but somehow the reason why had never come up. He doesn’t know what has happened in our city. At three years old, the concept of a “city” is still hazy. Yes, we live in Orlando. Actually, in Winter Springs which is a suburb of Orlando. If this is a complicated concept for his curious mind, how do I begin to explain why our nation’s flag is lowered to honor the victims of a brutal murder this weekend?

“Sometimes, when something sad happens to people, we lower our flag to honor them and other people who are sad,” I said as a sob lodged itself in my throat and a tear came to my eye.

It’s all I could say and for the first time, my first answer satisfied him and he did not follow with an endless series of “why?”.

I left for church on Sunday much earlier than usual and was unaware of the tragic events. The blood mobile was there, but this wasn’t unusual to me. It comes every couple months or so. I checked out the unusually longer line and noticed that I didn’t know anyone in line. Strange.

I went home and checked out the internet to discover 50 of my city neighbors had been murdered in a brutal shooting at a gay club. Facebook wants to know if I’m ok.

In the past few days, I’ve had a series of disjointed thoughts, so bear with me.

I’ve been thinking of the LGBT community that was targeted in this assault. I’ve been trying to find an example in my life that I could relate to. As in, does it feel like it would if someone busted in my church to attack us? My church community is the closest thing I can find in my life that sets me apart from the general community. I consider these people neighbors, but they are a community within a community. I can’t imagine how it must feel for someone to select a part of my life that they have deemed so unworthy that my entire life must be done away with.

I’ve been thinking of the Hispanic/Latino/Mexican/Etc. community. It was Latin night at the club. As I looked through the names of the victims, there is a theme here: Martinez, Fernandez, Gonzalez-Cruz, Rodriguez, Rosado…I can’t help but think of another community that is hurting. How many people are realizing their neighbor’s brother was killed? Their cousin? Friends of friends, friends of family…how many people are connected? How many people didn’t lose one person that night, but several? How many of my community are grieving not one best friend gone, but three, four, 10?

I’ve been thinking how I’m used to Orlando being in the news for embarrassing things. There was that astronaut who traveled to Orlando in an adult diaper to kidnap the woman who was having an affair with her cheating boyfriend. Trayvon Martin. Casey Anthony. Our inability to vote correctly. I’m not used to people speaking of Florida or Orlando with kindness and love. If we are noticed for doing something right it’s usually out of surprise. Today, I’d rather be known as the chain-restaurant capital of the world than the site of one of the largest mass shootings in our nation’s history. It has been incredibly surreal to see people from around the world mourning, supporting and loving our city.

I’ve been thinking about “why”. It seems natural to look for a motive. A motive that we can understand – not agree with, but something to say, “there, that’s why he did it”. I attended a church service in Dallas awhile ago and the minister said something that stuck with me then and I think it applies now. Chris Seidman said “It’s difficult to be the moral policeman of a lost culture.”

I think I would alter it slightly for this instance to say you cannot be the moral policeman of a lost culture.

I cannot expect someone who does not think or believe as I do to behave as I do. I don’t know the motive Omar Mateen had that morning or how he arrived there. But he was lost. Lost people act lost. I don’t think I’ll ever understand “why”. How can I understand the thought process of someone who took so many lives? How can I grasp the mind of someone who rocked the lives of their survivors, our city and the world? I can’t. I will never understand why.

Lastly, I’ve been thinking of the incredible response I’ve seen in my city beautiful. One Blood actually had to stop taking donations on Sunday since they were at capacity. Chik-fil-A brought free food to those waiting in line to donate blood on the one day they are closed. Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Smoothie King delivered free food as well. My own Metro Church is offering our building and facilities at no charge to those who need funeral arrangements. JetBlue and Allegiant Airlines are offering free flights for family members who need to be here. Animal shelters are offering homes for the pets of the victims at no charge. People have attended vigils the past two nights. I’m blown away…and I’m not.

I’m not really surprised. I’m grateful but not surprised. I have read about what the Christian response to the LGBT community should be for years. How we should love the person without condoning the lifestyle. I’ve always read this like, blah, blah, blah, yes, I know. I mean, the point of Jesus’ love is that it’s unconditional. I personally don’t have any Christian friends who feel different. Sure, there are crazy people those out there who do not represent Christ’s love in this matter. We are imperfect and that’s part of the hardship and the everlasting grace of claiming Christianity as a religion. Our savior was perfect and we aim to be like him and fail over and over again. We aim for it, but He does not expect it. He knows we will fail and He still loves us. And that’s how we should love.

I suspect that my Christian community has not known a tangible, practical way to demonstrate this unconditional love. At least not in a way to make it into the mainstream news. This unfortunate incident has given us this opportunity to show God’s love for us. Perhaps this love we see in our community was there all along but we didn’t have a way to show it. I wish there had been another way.

This is my native city. Orlando is the city beautiful and one person left his city to come and steal our beauty.

He failed. We are still beautiful. We are grieving but beautiful.  And if anything, we are more united than ever.

1 thought on “My City Beautiful

  1. Fantastic, Olivia. Well said. Couldn’t agree more. Praying for all who love Christ in Orlando to respond as you have, and to serve and help. Especially liked your point:
    I suspect that my Christian community has not known a tangible, practical way to demonstrate this unconditional love. At least not in a way to make it into the mainstream news. This unfortunate incident has given us this opportunity to show God’s love for us. Perhaps this love we see in our community was there all along but we didn’t have a way to show it. I wish there had been another way.”

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