Nobody with an internet connection, a television, or a newspaper can have missed hearing about the horrific slaughter of LGBT nightclub patrons in Orlando this past Sunday morning. And nobody can have missed the blame being thrown about concerning where the fault lies. And nobody can have missed the outpouring of prayer, and the assertions of the (very reasonable) opinion saying prayer is no longer enough. Fortunately, there has been a move on the part of the US Senate to consider (inadequately) more substantial measures to keep of weapons of war out of the hands of people who have no business with them.
Prayer and protest are appropriate responses. Okay, I’m a little tired of what is beginning to feel like a competition to out-pray each other–how large is our vigil, how beautiful is our prayer board with the pictures of all the fallen. Jesus did say something about prayer being done in private, to go into your room and shut the door and pray in secret. We have become very bad about following this directive.
But what I am most tired of is what can be summed up as the “your grief is our grief; your loss is our loss” rhetoric. Yes, we all lose when there is a mass shooting: we lose a sense of security, we lose a bit of dignity for not having saner laws concerning firearms. We have lost the potential of young people’s contribution to society.
But not all of us have lost equally. The LGBT community has lost, the Latino/a community has lost. The families and friends–the people who knew the victims up-close and personally–have lost most of all. And by saying “your grief is our grief; your loss is our loss”, without nuance, we fail to acknowledge the very specific, personal, irreplaceable grief and loss which belongs only to the people who knew the victims well and loved them. Not as symbols, not as emblems, not as martyrs–but as sons and daughters and friends and parents and lovers and spouses and siblings.
Love always wins. But particular, specific, one-to-one love, where the person is a person, not a symbol or a story, has to be allowed to acknowledge the loss it has sustained.
In 1989, my mother died quite suddenly. A friend came to the visitation. She wailed and called attention to herself in ways I found embarrassing. She kept hugging me, and saying how terrible it was–but after half an hour, it seemed it was more for the sake of her need for attention than it was for support for me or my family. (She had met my mother exactly twice.) My father asked me to find a way to get her to leave. We had other visitors to receive, and after all, it was our family, not she, who was in need of care and attention.
I wonder how much the Orlando families and friends might be needing their own space to grieve, in the company of those most affected, who knew their loved ones best. Who have specific, rather than generic, words of comfort and support. For whom the victims were people, not symbols, not stories.
Yes, we should support–sign petitions, send therapy animals, raise money to pay for funerals which were not expected to take place for many years hence, and of course, pray. But we also need to find the line where we are intruding on the private grief of families for our own needs. And not step over the line.