Pulse Orlando – One Year On

I still hold my breath when I think about it. I lose myself in thoughts of the day and, at times, have to remind myself to breathe for fear of forgetting how to.

I remember every detail of the day. Every piercing headline as they rolled over, and over, and over like a digital ticker-tape parade of lost hope. I was glued to the live video feeds, switching between news organizations and social media platforms in a fragmented, manic search of more information. In search of more. But more of what? Hope, perhaps? But, there wasn’t any hope. Not in the beginning anyhow. Everything was loud. A cacophony of lost innocence and lost lives.

I remember the silence though, too. The soul-crushing, muted weight of it. As the number of dead grew and grew, and as the world got louder, my heart grew quieter and quieter. I said the word in my head, to myself, trying to make it palatable while holding back the tears: Pulse.

We were first made aware of a ‘disturbance’ in a night club half a world away at nightfall. At home in New Zealand, I was putting my daughter to bed when a few news notifications popped up on my phone. The original alerts seemed fairly histrionic – par for the course as far as click-bait goes in a so-called Fake News Economy. So, putting global news aside, we happily talked about birthday parties, unicorns, funfetti cake, and dreams for the future – falling into an untroubled, peaceful slumber.

It wasn’t until the next morning, when I woke at 3am to go to the gym, that the gravity of the ‘disturbance’ from the night before hit home. And, hit home it did. Like a meteor smashing into a glass aquarium. I couldn’t hack it at the gym upon reading the reports flooding in. My legs were wobbly, my hands shook reading the Twitter feeds. So, I went home and, in tears, told my fiancée what I’d read. What I knew to be true, so far…

Many dead.

More injured.

We didn’t know much about the ‘why’ yet. We didn’t know if there’d be more beloveds who wouldn’t make it home to hug their families. Many, many more were gravely ill – fighting for their lives in hospital. Families were distraught. Searching out their children, parents, spouses, soulmates. No, we didn’t know much. But what we did know was that a crazy, hate-filled, mentally unstable perpetrator went on a rampage. And, that he targeted the LGBT community. My blood ran cold when I heard this. The people at Pulse were there to dance, to laugh, to feel safe. They were there to enjoy living.

In targeting the people that he did that night, he targeted people like me, like my childhood friends, like my family. He also, for a brief few hours, shattered my own naïve notions of safety in a world that is saturated with nuance and understanding. I say ‘brief’ because, as often happens in situations like this – we would rally the world over. And, many of us, would chose love and understanding to hate and abject anger. But, not that day. Not on this day one year ago. On this day one year ago, I cried until my tears ran dry.

My fiancée and I, before the dawn, wept together as we read updated reports. We didn’t have any words of comfort for each other – words eloquent or gentle enough don’t exist. We couldn’t fathom such an act that morning. I sometimes still can’t. At one point we agreed to just put our phones down. To tune out of the world, as it were. But, that didn’t work. We couldn’t pretend that what was happening in Florida that day didn’t have implications for us so far away. We stayed as still as we could physically for as long as we were able. Looking up at the ceiling. Arms wrapped around each other, each protecting the other like human shields. As the sun came up we went through the motions of normalcy. We packed lunches, dressed for work, got in the car… headed to our office. Just like it was a typical, ho-hum day.

But it wasn’t. After explaining the tear stains on our faces as best as we could to her, and dropping our little girl at school, we headed over the Auckland Harbour Bridge. It was in this moment that President Obama spoke to my beloved home nation, and to the world. Hearing his voice felt safe. Taking in his words, we both broke down. His eloquence, his calm, his controlled anger – it all came at a time when we were at a complete loss for words or understanding. And, it was what the entire world needed to find the strength to move forward as a global community drawn together as allies, friends, and simply – as human beings.

Celebrities and communities beyond Orlando and beyond the LGBT community rallied on and offline to help bring healing to those directly and indirectly effected. Kindness was dialed up. Understanding seeped through cracks in long standing differences. People of all colors, creeds, religions, and cultures banded together. Countries lit up thier skylines and main tourist attractions in rainbow colours. Flags flew at half mast. Global citizens mourned collectively. We stared the healing process, together.

A year on, I read the words President Obama spoke in full and still find so much hope in them. A year on, I still think about the tears we cried and those we still cry. A year on and I remember the strong embrace of strangers seeking to comfort each other. A year on, I still have questions – perhaps there will never be any answers. And, a year on, I remember. All 49 of you. I remember you. And, I carry you with me. If there’s anything one trip around the sun since Pulse has taught me, it’s this: be kind, listen, care, and keep on finding joy in what it is that makes us all different and the same all at once.


President Obama’s Words:

Today, as Americans, we grieve the brutal murder—a horrific massacre—of dozens of innocent people. We pray for their families, who are grasping for answers with broken hearts. We stand with the people of Orlando, who have endured a terrible attack on their city. Although it’s still early in the investigation, we know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate. And as Americans, we are united in grief, in outrage, and in resolve to defend our people.

I just finished a meeting with FBI Director Comey and my homeland security and national security advisors. The FBI is on the scene and leading the investigation, in partnership with local law enforcement. I’ve directed that the full resources of the federal government be made available for this investigation.

We are still learning all the facts. This is an open investigation. We’ve reached no definitive judgment on the precise motivations of the killer. The FBI is appropriately investigating this as an act of terrorism. And I’ve directed that we must spare no effort to determine what—if any—inspiration or association this killer may have had with terrorist groups. What is clear is that he was a person filled with hatred. Over the coming days, we’ll uncover why and how this happened, and we will go wherever the facts lead us.

This morning I spoke with my good friend, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, and I conveyed the condolences of the entire American people. This could have been any one of our communities. So I told Mayor Dyer that whatever help he and the people of Orlando need—they are going to get it. As a country, we will be there for the people of Orlando today, tomorrow and for all the days to come.

We also express our profound gratitude to all the police and first responders who rushed into harm’s way. Their courage and professionalism saved lives, and kept the carnage from being even worse. It’s the kind of sacrifice that our law enforcement professionals make every single day for all of us, and we can never thank them enough.

This is an especially heartbreaking day for all our friends—our fellow Americans—who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live. The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub—it is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.

So this is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American—regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation—is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country. And no act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans.

Today marks the most deadly shooting in American history. The shooter was apparently armed with a handgun and a powerful assault rifle. This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.

In the coming hours and days, we’ll learn about the victims of this tragedy. Their names. Their faces. Who they were. The joy that they brought to families and to friends, and the difference that they made in this world. Say a prayer for them and say a prayer for their families—that God give them the strength to bear the unbearable. And that He give us all the strength to be there for them, and the strength and courage to change. We need to demonstrate that we are defined more—as a country—by the way they lived their lives than by the hate of the man who took them from us.

As we go together, we will draw inspiration from heroic and selfless acts—friends who helped friends, took care of each other and saved lives. In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another. We will not give in to fear or turn against each other. Instead, we will stand united, as Americans, to protect our people, and defend our nation, and to take action against those who threaten us.

May God bless the Americans we lost this morning. May He comfort their families. May God continue to watch over this country that we love. Thank you.

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