For the month of June, we asked all of our writers to include a video in their piece.
I have a bad habit of being inappropriately optimistic in trying situations. I bark bright sides at friends as they walk disappointed from finish lines, grow peppier the more lost my caravan becomes on the Ohio toll road system, and cheerily cite the fact that Kent county boasts the highest number of car-deer accidents as my friends’ dad examines the fur stuck in the grill of the van.
But this past week, as I spent two consecutive days grading exams with only a live stream of the Orlando shooting coverage for company, this same optimism perturbed me. Interleaved with periodic death toll updates and additional chapters in the shooter’s developing biography, the broadcasters mused about the quick coalescence of the community, the valor of the story’s heroes, the tweeted sentiments of politicians. They interviewed counter-terrorism specialists and grief counselors and community leaders. They gushed about their love for their city and called it beautiful. And through all of this, fifty bodies lay vacant in a dark nightclub being swabbed and prodded and photo-documented. The conversation on gun control began while the bodies were still warm.
It does not escape me that this is the second consecutive June that I’ve blogged responding to mass shooting hate crimes. And I do not blame the news crews and reporters for this too-soon optimism. They have worked tirelessly, and mourning is not possible within a twenty-four-hour news cycle. Society requires that media wrestle facts into narratives and events into stories and despair into hope, applying every bias of the living.
But I want to be clear: People helping other people is not remarkable. Communities coming together is not remarkable. Mayors and governors expressing care for their citizens is not remarkable. People surviving a night at a club is not remarkable. What is remarkable is that forty-nine people didn’t, and what I really want the smiling broadcasters to say is that there is no silver lining. This is not an opportunity or a warning call or a new beginning. It is an ending, and endings should be mourned.
I’m realizing, though, that I’ve never really learned to mourn. I have been fortunate in to only have brushes will loss—a great-grandma and great-aunt, a beloved professor, friends’ parents. However, I’ve never had an empty-seat-at-the-dinner-table loss, and it is one of my sincerest prayers that I never will. But this loss happened in my community and affected my friends, and I want to mourn it. But how?
In the days since the shooting, people in cities around the world have funneled into the streets to hold up candles and lay down roses for the victims in Orlando. They have come together to show support and seek a support network. Is this mourning, though? Does it require a crowd? Does it require tears? Does it require Facebook profile tributes?
And if so, then who is the mourning for? For the dead? That seems naïve. For the families of the dead? Perhaps, but I think they’d prefer a home-cooked meal. For God? Maybe mourning the murder of his love is somehow another way of glorifying his greatness. Or is it for the mourners, to comfort the living? That seems selfish.
I have no answers, but I feel like mourning begins as a solitary action, an acknowledgement that each of us has to make. It is opening oneself up to another’s sorrow with no hope for gain. It is lying under the sun and refusing to move until you burn. It is not pragmatic or altruistic or strategic.
Over the past few days, I’ve been trying to find this mourning, and I think I may have found a place to start. You’re welcome to come along:
Close your eyes and imagine that you are in a gay night club, sitting cross-legged in the middle of the dance floor. It is dark and quiet. The air is heavy with sweat and cologne and the sweet burn of alcohol. A strobe light idly pulses in the corner, silently illuminating the necks and shoulders and thighs of bodies rippling around you like an impassible mountain range. One of them put bullets in the others, but it’s impossible to tell which. Around the bodies, glass winks and a film of blood thickens. The blood is no one’s because it is everyone’s. The only thing left to make sound is the anxious buzzing of cell phones, each animated by someone who will sit at an empty table or on an empty couch and re-visit a vacant Facebook page.
The bodies are dressed to impress. Their phones are filled with half-finished conversations or calendars with events that won’t be attended. Some of them were partners, but a body isn’t a partner. Some of them were mothers, but a body isn’t a mother. Some of them were students, but there’s nothing left to teach. They are just houses that won’t be bought and vows that won’t be said and kisses that won’t be given or received. The blood belongs to no one because there’s no one left.
Here, your feelings don’t matter. Let yourself feel uncomfortable. Let yourself feel apathetic. Let yourself feel sad. Let yourself feel sadder about the bodies that are younger and more attractive. You aren’t what matters here. Neither are the people related to the communal blood on the floor or politicians and what they did or didn’t say or gun laws or religion or heroes or good stories. There is no one to be strong for or sad for or responsible for. Strip the scene of narrative, of meaning, of hope.
This is not a lost basketball game or bad grade or failed relationship. There is nothing to learn from, nothing to recover from, nowhere to go from here. Outside, there is sunlight and family to help and laws to pass and reporters talking into microphones and helicopters fluttering overhead. But in here, in this darkness, between these walls, there are no solutions.
Gabe Gunnink (’14) lives in Seattle, where he works for a European travel company and gawks at the landscapes and skylines surrounding him. In his free time, he enjoys practicing Portuguese under his breath on city buses, running far enough to justify eating an entire pan of cinnamon rolls, and faithfully implementing Oxford commas.