The Orlando You Didn't Know
You used to know Orlando as the gateway to magical places, but this week, it has now become a gateway to fear and grief. A place once marked by innocence, is now a crime scene for the worst shooting massacre in US history.
I moved to Orlando 6 years ago with no intention of staying any longer than it took to get my diploma placed in my hands. 2 years went by and I found myself suddenly afraid to leave. Somehow, slowly over time, Orlando had won my heart over. Twice I have moved away, and twice I came back. What was it about this city that I couldn’t leave? Not just a city that is hidden in the shadow of Disney/Universal/I-Drive, but the small town, big city feel of a thriving culture who was finding her place in the world.
I used to hate downtown. I never had a reason to come, yet how ironic that I now live and work in downtown. This strange city quickly became not a place, but a home. A place that I felt I could thrive. A place where I could feel her very heartbeat. A home filled with people I loved, and memories that filled every space and corner of this city. These are the streets I daily walk and ride my bike. Places I pass through are tied with, “I remember when we did” or “this is where.” This city was wet concrete and we all put ourselves into it, and now it has formed into the foundation of who I am. All our stories share space in its making. Places I go to are places of community, familiar faces, and new ones being met. A city that I have watched grow up as more than just a vacation spot.
To see my city wounded, exposed and vulnerable by the horrendous act of one man, seen by the world as the worst shooting, grieves my heart. I am not alone. The sadness, the fear, the pain, has been felt tangible in the air. This is what I want to offer you - the viewpoint of the Orlando you didn’t know about - from those who live here. Not what the news shows you, but what we see with our very own eyes.
I believe Orlando will not be remembered by tragedy, but by our response. I have seen a city that deeply cares for those who live here. A city whose first response is not anger and vengeance, but forgiveness and hope. A city where people stand in line for hours to give blood to people they have never met. A city who stands with candle in hand as we silently honor those who were killed. A city that stands shoulder to shoulder with people who are different, whether that community was LGBT, Muslim, or Christian we're all brought together for the sake of love and the respect for human life. A people who pray and weep for those they never met. Who give up their time to mourn with those who mourn, and stand as gatekeepers of hope. A city where our Mayor declares, “There can be no darkness in light!”
For we each bear a light inside of us. The light of humanity, the light of being made and loved by God. When that light is diminished, we feel the darkness where those lights once burned, now burn bright inside each one of us.
This is the Orlando you didn’t know about, the Orlando that is a family, a people who care deeply for their neighbors. The seeds of our fallen brothers and sisters will become the history we live tomorrow. One day we will look back and our children will read about this moment, but it won't be defined by death, but the life we chose to live in response.
When you see the news, remember who we are and what we stand for. Remember we are all family, and we need you just as much as you need us.
This is the Orlando you didn’t know about.
This is my home, my City Beautiful.