By Julia Prentice
I opened my iPad the morning after June 12th 2016 and immediately became numb, paralyzed.
Seconds after, my heart pounded and fear exploded as I read more about the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida. The throat-gulping and nerve-rattling panic came soon after.
“Are my loved ones safe”?
I had spoken with them only a few days before. They were planning on going clubbing sometime over the weekend. They are gay. They live and work in Orlando.
My abject fear and immobility turned into action. I texted them, and waited for the response. I died and was reborn a thousand times, until five minutes later when I heard that they were safe. Then, my five minutes were done…my family members were safe, but still things were far from okay. The flood of emotions began: breath ragged, faint and weak—crying is not a strong enough word. Sobbing, weeping and shaking for a long, long time in waves of emotion.
Luckily I had loved ones close by. Checking with them and sending those far away with reassurance that family members were not hurt did help some. Attending service at my Unitarian Universalist Congregation, where friends lovingly held me—held me and strongly supported welcoming all LGBTQ lives. I kept talking to gay friends and emailing others, seeing if they were “okay.” However, to quote my youngest, it was not “okay” at all.
There must have been many, many hearts pounding, cracking and breaking that day and will be again in the future—many sobs, many ragged and rattled people.
Those who were affected would have a part of them die too, I imagined. Their five minutes might have stretched out to five hours—not knowing if they lost someone, someone was lying in a pool of blood, dying or dead. Five hours of checking hospitals, frantic phone calls, texts and emails. And finally the moment of knowing: shock of loss, disbelief settling into a reality that was unimaginable just five minutes before. Or relief upon finding out that their own were safe.
The grief of parents, children, friends, lovers, co-workers when they learned the worst was true. That it would surely become hours, days and years and years of heartache and pain. Pain that goes on and on when a loved one is violently killed or injured, just for being who they are. In some sense, someday those affected might be “okay” but most likely never in another sense. To me that loss and that pain was and is completely pointless. That five minutes or whatever stretch of time should never have happened.
But it did.
Yet, in the midst of hopelessness there was and is still one singular point we could focus on: speaking out and speaking up. Affirming acceptance of anyone, anywhere no matter who they are or what they believe. Standing up, coming out, being vocal however that works for you. Because it could be you, with that “five minutes,” having the heart pounding fear and throat-gulping, as parts of you and yours are crying, are dying.
We could all have that five minutes or thousands of minutes. It could happen at any time.
The victims will never have that time again. It was taken from them violently. We can all celebrate their memory and the time they had, but they will still be gone. Memories may fill our time but not the deep, deep hole left behind. Grieving for many years may seem pointless but it is not.
I hope we can not just remember them, but unite and act for them. Not with hatred, perhaps with or without love, but with firm resolve. I sincerely hope no one experiences the loss of those five minutes or all of their minutes.
Personally, I am dedicated to working so that doesn’t happen, and I will invest many more than my “five minutes” to prevent just that.
From the Connecticut originally, Julia now lives in North Carolina, US with her soulmate and their furry companion. Past careers include ASL interpreting, preschool teaching and tutoring. Currently she is a passionate Peer Supporter of persons with mental health challenges, a certified W.R.A.P. Facilitator and Certified Peer Specialist. In her spare time she’s a writer, knitter, crafter and singer. Her poetry is published in seven books, and several blogs.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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