Orlando United – UCF Writes to Remember

Following the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, our city and the UCF campus came together to grieve the dead and to heal the living. As the week wore on, we discovered our own connections to those affected. And we all found ourselves sorting through a host of emotions.

In the University Writing Center, we wondered what we could do to help. One way to acknowledge our emotions and begin to come to terms with them is by writing. And so we invited students, faculty, staff, and the Orlando community to do just that, to write:

  • A letter to a victim, family member, or loved one
  • An appreciation to a first-responder
  • A thanks to one of the many support organizations that have been working so hard in the aftermath of this tragedy
  • A plea to a legislator or other political leader
  • A tearful rant
  • A note to a faith community
  • A poem or song
  • Any writing at all

Our goal was to prompt participants to to write, then to invite them to read their writing to the group and talk about their thoughts and feelings. Below are excerpts from some of the informal writing participants shared with us, after only a few minutes of unrevised, unedited free-writing.

I remember
Was it a year? Two?
My life was better for it.
I remember.
The passing of lives,
the tortured souls.
The void left as payment.
Feelings are hard,
the truth harder.
For long past,
under the weather.
I remember.
The face of a dead man,
the face of a friend.
It wasn’t long,
the longevity of our passing.
But your mark was made.
I remember.
I never forget.
Perhaps a character flaw
that I never left.
A kind-hearted soul,
lost against the noise,
a man of peace, of valor.
I remember.
What you did for me.
The impact of life.
Scars and storms,
leaving their trace.
Again to the surface,
I bleed silently,
holding in the death,
The death of a friend.
What’s left to say?
All I have is “I remember.”
And it’s true. I will.
Remember until I’m dead.

Peter Karleskint

When the Pharisees threw a woman caught in the act of adultery down at Jesus’ feet, he drew a line in the sand and said, “Let anyone of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then he took her by the hand and helped her up. These days, when a person is brought before social media in a status update or news article shared, stones are fired from all directions. Even in the midst of the deadliest shooting on modern American soil, people take it upon themselves to cast stones–at the politicians, the Muslims, the Christians, the gays. Stones are fired. And fired. And fired. We have more ammunition and much farther range an ever before. And we use it. Perhaps in the midst of arguments about gun control, we should also talk about self-control. And what we can do is stop throwing stones and, instead, take people by the hand.

Cynthia Mitchell

The lights were dancing, and so were they.
The music flew, and so did they.
Then it dropped, and so did they.
The room was painted red, and so were they.
Fire grew as they fell.
Hearts broke.
Minds altered.
50 lives.
Infinite injuries.
This was not the first red-painted room.
No, this story is much too old.
This story will continue.
Until every spark of fire is controlled.

Janine Colon

To my future children,

You don’t exist yet, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think of you. That doesn’t mean I don’t worry. Recently, one thing I’ve started to worry about is that you may never exist. There’s a lot of violence in the world right now. I guess there’s always been a lot of violence. But if you knew what was happening around us, you might not believe it. It’s hard for me to believe, and I exist in this world every day. How can I ever have children in a world where politicians preach hate to crowds of thousands? Where tragedy after tragedy occurs in a country that continues to do nothing?I don’t know if I can. I don’t know if I should. I worry about you every moment. I’d be afraid to let you outside. That’s why I worry that you may never exist at all.

On Sunday–I think it was Sunday, the last few days have all blurred together–50 people were killed in Orlando, the city where I live. 50 people who breathed and laughed and cried won’t ever do that any more. The city is hurt. The country is angry. Anger is sometimes the first response to anger. But there has been something through all this that has stuck out in my mind. It’s the rainbow. It seems silly, I know. But the rainbow is a symbol of hope, peace, diversity, and acceptance. It is the symbol of love and being loved. And the rainbow has been flying–in a flag, on stickers, and online–since this occurred. And it will continue to fly.

They’re saying we’re #OrlandoStrong and #OneOrlando. I don’t know if hashtags will still be used when you’re my age, but a hashtag itself is a symbol–a symbol of communication of ideas and hope and love being spread across the Earth. When I think of the rainbow, of the LGBTQ community, of the people who love and are loved, I think maybe it will be o.k. Maybe we’ll figure this out. Somehow. Maybe we’ll decide together than we won’t accept hate and violence. That we won’t accept the joys of life being quieted by those forces.

Maybe we’re already doing that. Maybe that’s what the rainbow really means. I don’t know. I won’t pretend to know. But I do know that, somehow, we will get better. That’s what people do. When you are hurt, stand up. When you feel that you are up against overwhelming odds, stand up. That’s what we’re trying to do–to make this world better. To make this world o.k. We have so far to go. I can’t even see the finish line. But no matter what, know that I love you. Know that your future mother and all the people who love you are trying tirelessly to fix what’s broken. To love, instead of hate. I love you.

Your Mother

Why? I think this was the first word I wrote when one of my closest friends passed from this physical world. Why? The word I use to seek explanation. The word I used to challenge Mom. The word that can yield an infinite response, yet neither God nor death will answer. The response of subjectivity. The response of bias. The aftermath in politics. The rising unity. The heightened division. It’s moments like these when people are most vulnerable, most frightened, most alert, most self-aware. Yet death functions to me as a reminder of fragmentation. Broken. Nations broken. The world broken. These lines . . .

Because the world never has been whole. Because people will never agree on everything. Because argument only opens doors to further argument and more division . . .

I sift through my emotions: Worried. Dismayed. Vulnerable. Loathing. I can only imagine that others feel similar emotions. What divides or unites us? How do we overcome tragedies? I recall the Dalai Lama quote that harnesses the forgiving nature I prefer to embrace: “We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder. You always have a choice.”

If only every time we question “Why?” with these feelings in our hearts and then choose to forgive. How much different would the world be? We’ll still be broken, disagreeing, dissatisfied with other. But acceptance of one another is the beauty of peace. It’s the peace I can only hope to spread to others until that day come. A utopian peace that may never come. But if continuing to love one another is the closest thing to it, then I will be satisfied with a loving but broken world.

Helen Fetscher

I suppose it is the lived juxtaposition between pain and joy that drives humans toward one another in times of tragedy.

A talking head floated across my television screen yesterday: youngish, professional, an Orlando man. I cannot recall his name, but he spoke gratefully about having grown up here, a town where he has chosen to remain living. He was speaking and I was trying to discern. The violence at Pulse interfered. “We are living in a blended era.”

Blended families, blended friends, blended cuisines— lovely thoughts came to mind. And then the realization that he was speaking about blended motivations for hate filled actions. And it has stuck hard in my head.

Knowing whatever blended motivations drove this particular human to destroy other humans will be useful on a number of fronts. We will be able to attach words to aspects of emotions, ideology and actions and think of them anew. It is a penchant of ours, you know. And we will use these terms to discuss the undoubtedly future acts of violence because we all know they are going to come until they don’t anymore. And our responses to violence will now be blended too. This terminology will explain incidents that will never be justified or fully understood. We will recognize the complexity of humans in these terms. Rejoice in the terms!

In our blended era, survivors will be blended into new communities—survivor communities with meetings and buttons and mailing lists and anniversaries. 1st responders, 2nd responders, and 3rd and 4th and 5th responders will blend into their new communities too. I am not sure we have yet coined those terms. Our dogs have blended from family pet to service provider. Do not think that this violence isn’t blending into every human inhabitant on our planet– whether they know it or not. It has blended into our collective DNA. Trauma blends into DNA, look it up.

But just as the trauma becomes a part of human DNA, so too does the wave of love we create when we blend our beautiful human spirits to counter the violence. By a raw and unscientific examination, I suggest, no, I know the blending of hearts and empathy is a more forceful influence upon we humans and our DNA than any infiltration from a point of violence. You see, there is a truth in the physical reality of the blending of the blood of the victims on the floor of Pulse, on the classroom floors at Sandy Hook, on the theatre floor in Colorado and on every inch of surface where human lay heaped upon human in death. It is impossible to identify with the naked eye whose blood is whose. There are no signifiers other than human. And so, we see, see through our pain, that we are all part of the family of humanity. Our external differences are just that, external differences with no bearing on our hearts, with no bearing on the same blood that beats in every one of our hearts.

Maybe it isn’t the juxtaposition between joy and grief that brings humans together in times of tragedy but the space that is created in that moment. Like a collective breath, a blended breath, we practice our humanity in that space and exhale into the recognition of our communal sense of responsibility born of our experience witnessing, grieving, reflecting. Would that we remembered to blend our beautiful breaths more in joy than in sorrow.

Susanne Margolin