Thursday, June 30, 2016

A place of peace to mourn the victims of Pulse

Memorial for the victims of Pulse at Dr. Phillip's Center. 
The first thing that grabs your attention is a rainbow of color filling a massive set of windows in Orlando's Dr. Phillip's Center. It rests above an equally expansive lawn, a magnet of sorts for people in search of answers.

On this melancholy and humid evening, two weeks or so after 50 people were murdered at Pulse, a gay bar only a short distance away on the southern fringes of the downtown area, several dozen pilgrims wander about in quiet reflection. The public meeting spot, at least for the moment, has been transformed into sacred ground.

After all, this is the place a week earlier where 50,000 people gathered to mourn and memorialize the country's latest victims of terrorism and gun violence; the same spot where President Obama and Vice President Biden stood, heads bowed, to share a nation's grief.

"The Vice President and I told them," the President said of his meeting with family members of the slain, "that our hearts are broken, too, but we stand with you and that we are here for you, and that we are remembering those who you loved so deeply."

From a distance, the scent of jasmine offers a gentle welcome. The lawn, the site now of several impromptu memorials, is sprinkled with a jarring mix of stuff -- displays recalling the lives of the victims, messages offering prayers of hope and salvation; red, white and blue bunting and flags, burning incense (a sharp note of jasmine mixed with the coolness of lavender), and a vast array of flowers and flickering candles.

There are also hundreds of hand-written notes from friends, playful trinkets and spiritual gifts -- a small crucifix and rosary, a time-worn Bible and a tiny box holding soil, an attached note explaining, "from the Holy Land".

Flags, photos, cards and trinkets part of massive memorial.
On closer inspection, after days beneath an unforgiving sun and the torrid heat of central Florida, I note the flowers have begun to wilt, letters of love and remembrance to wrinkle at the edges and the colorful, patriotic banners to fade. In another few days, perhaps a week or two, the lawn will be swept clean and Pulse will become yet another painful memory of a place where evil once visited.

The names of the dead and injured in attacks stretching back decades are mostly forgotten in a world moving at the speed of light. Sadly, the locations are what we recall: Columbine, Blacksburg, Newtown, Aurora, Fort Hood and Charleston; San Bernardino, Chattanooga, San Ysidro, Washington, D.C. and Tucson.

The full list spans the country. No region is immune to the momentary madness of mostly boys and men directed by hate, fear and a grotesque anger fueled by job and personal issues, teen angst, mental illness and, most recently, cultural and ideological chauvinism.

As the sun sinks slowly below the horizon and the first stars of the night appear above the city's skyline, an agitated volunteer busies herself lighting a row of candles. A photographer kneels in front of a makeshift shrine and snaps a few photos and a family -- dad, mom and two youngsters --  take a final look around before disappearing into the shadows.

It turns out, for pilgrims and others, there is an answer to be found in this space. That becomes clear when I hear the thrum of music off in the distance. Downtown Orlando, after all, is filled with distractions for locals and tourists.

The noise feels jarring and invasive but it offers a painful, yet undeniable truth. Despite tragedy and death, heartbreak and misery, time never stops and life always goes on.

No comments:

Post a Comment