I have been trying to put this post together for a week and it's been hard. There are not enough words to talk about the time in Orlando and I also have felt unsure of what I really want to share. That phrase in the title is one that has been used down there and I adore it. How true. Love really does give hope. Someone could be in the depths of despair and one act of love could turn their life around.
On Sunday, June 12, I was enjoying Bunker Hill Parade Day. It's a busy day and I was off social media all morning and midday. Until others told me, I had no idea what happened in Orlando. Even after I knew some basics, I didn't want to know much. I wanted to get through the day and then take the time to find out. Once I was home, late that night, as I read what had happened, my heart sank. Before now, I would have been hit with waves on anxiety and a very deep sadness. Now, it still makes me sad but it does not bring about anxiety like it used to. As I read a few articles and stories of survivors or those lost, I thought, "We have to go." I thought about it for the next two days, mentioning it to a few people and then, first thing Tues, reached out to my friend Dave, a fellow survivor, who heads up the One World Strong Trek. We immediately went to work figuring out how to pull a trip to Orlando together. With my connections to City Hall, we were fortunate to get a meeting quickly and as if meant to be (you all now how I feel about that!), one of the men we met with in Intergovernmental Relations used to work for Mayor Dyer in Orlando. They went to work helping us connect with city officials there so we could best connect with anyone we could help and make the most of our time there. As we searched for flights and places to stay, we were blessed with most of our plane tickets donated from Jetblue. Then, AirBnB donated a house to us for the weekend right near downtown Orlando and Uber said they would pay for all of our transportation. It was AMAZING and we were unbelievably grateful for all of the help in making the trip happen.
Since we had to plan it so quickly, we identified some people who had been helping in some way with the Trek, all marathon survivors, to join us. We didn't want to put it out there too much because the trip was truly about Orlando and what we could do for them. As one reporter in Orlando said, this was kept quiet and no one publicly knew we were coming until the people of City Hall and the Hispanic Chamber in Orlando brought us to a beautiful vigil they held on our first night. Earlier, having barely been on the ground, Dave and I met with our contacts at City Hall to present them with a beautiful letter written by Mayor Walsh and some other gifts and items of support from around Boston including a few condolence books (one of which we passed around on the plane which was well received). They were emotional and so very thankful for us being there. We already knew that this was exactly the right thing for us to be doing.
We met a few survivors at the vigil and many supporters and people from the community. Everyone was just beautiful and full of love and gratitude. We found the same all weekend.
Saturday, we met with survivors at the hospital, visited Pulse to pay our respects at the memorial out front and everyone else went to lunch while I took a much needed break to myself. It was proving exhausting and slightly overwhelming to keep all of the logistics going as well as being the point person to everyone we would potentially meet with on top of very little sleep. Throughout the weekend, we met with many organizations that are providing support. They wanted to ask our thoughts on a number of things and get advice from a survivor perspective so they can best help those impacted. Everyone was just amazing and beautiful and so full of heart. We also met with some more survivors each day.
We met with some survivors in groups, but I personally met with 4 survivors privately. Their stories of horror and survival were emotional but it was also a beautiful experience to spend time with them. To be able to share your story, especially with it having a good ending makes the things you go through have more of a purpose. I was able to tell them, truthfully, that I went from the depths of severe anxiety and depression to being the happiest and most at peace that I've ever been in my life. One of my closest friends who was with me EVERY step of the way just said to me the other day that she feels I was reborn that day which is something I have felt as well. To share that and have 4 people who have just experienced such awful horror, really a worst nightmare, say you've given them hope is something that is indescribable. It takes every dark moment I had, and some were very dark, and turns them into light.
People are hurting. They are feeling a pain that can't be put into words. These people are survivors, families of those killed or injured, loved ones of anyone there that night, people who have spent time at that club, people who are just simply part of the community. Trauma is far reaching after an event like this. Not only those directly impacted but those supporting and who love them need to be taken into account and I have been happy to see they all are being considered in Orlando. It will be hard. VERY HARD for many. It may take months or it may take years for people to move on, to feel whole again. But, they have support of each other, us, and the entire world behind them.
I personally hate that this has been called a terrorist attack. You don't have to agree. This is my opinion after reading about it and meeting people in Orlando. I don't see it that way and many people I've talked to feel the same. Religion seemed to be used here as an excuse instead of what it really was, a deep shame. So, I call it a shame crime, that yes, had some basis in some religious beliefs but I feel like it was more than that. Shame can be a crazy thing. I don't think it condones any violence but I've learned that in situations like this, you can find some sort of peace with it over time if you have an understanding of the actions rather than going straight to hate and anger. It does not excuse it. People still make choices no matter how awful a life they lead or how much shame or hate they have inside of them. But, to understand why these things happen, where it comes from may end up being the key to stopping some of it.
You can see more images from our trip or see some more specifics on how each of our days went on our One World Strong blog here: http://goo.gl/1kn6JR
We are now looking to raise as much money as possible so that we can continue to go and support Orlando on this long road of healing the way others did for us. We also hope to do the same for others here and around the world who experience terror or even a natural disaster or anything else that causes trauma. Just this week, there have been multiple attacks across the world. We want to help support these people.
You can donate directly here: https://semperfifund.org/4-15-strong-fund/
Or you can participate in our awesome Virtual 5k! What is that? It's SO easy! You sign up and then you can do whatever you want such as run, bike, swim, hike, walk 3.1 miles and log it in to get your medal! (You can literally sit on the couch if you really want--sshhh don't tell anyone I said that! I do recommend MOVING.) All money raised above the cost will go directly to the 415 Fund to help us help others in need. Info is in the blog post link just two paragraphs above!
Please share with anyone you think may be willing to donate or participate in our 5k!