As our annual Pride parade and celebration dawned this year, our lives were disrupted by a tragic event on the other side of the country. What should have been a time of festivities and coming together joyously in community became a bittersweet and potentially dangerous experience. I went out into the streets to march, but was wary of my environment. I watched the floats and felt the intensity of the presence of armed officers bookending the parade. I sang “True Colors” at the opening interfaith service and was a little more saddened than usual to be countered with words of bigotry and rejection, shouted out through megaphones by religious organizations standing behind a fence across the street from where the queer interfaith clergy team was preaching words of blessing.
Ever since the shooting in Orlando and its repercussions on the political, social and human front, I’ve been thinking to myself how we as individuals can combat the darkness that still seems to befall us and the hate that still is taught and preached towards anyone who is different. Yes, there are charities to donate to and Facebook filters to update one’s profile pic in solidarity with the victims and that’s all fine and good. But a lasting bitter taste was left for me through realizing the disastrous impacts unresolved internal homophobia (or any other form of internal mental pain) can have. That really hit home for me this year.
As LGBTQ people, many of us grow up in an environment in which we’re led to believe that there’s something wrong about us that needs to be changed. But really it’s the society around us – a society that holds on to “shoulds” and norms and etiquette – that needs the change the most. And so, while I’m not a therapist by any means, I’ve been left thinking that bullies, unkind neighbors, entitled employers and mass shooters too all have in common some unresolved pain carried within them that has gone untreated for too long. After all, it’s easier to just try to blend in and put on a facade of a perfect life, rather than to admit that challenges are real, that struggles are real. Self-acceptance is an evolutionary and often difficult process.
Can we make it our mission to work with and through the pain rather than suppressing it? Can our work lie in releasing our pain by talking about it, singing about it, meditating about it, cooking a meal about it, hiking about it, praying about it, connecting with someone about it, until love, hope, comfort and joy can take the place that was filled up by pain? Can this be one way of combating the darkness outside and inside ourselves? And can we do it alone?
The Orlando shooting occurred on the first day of Shavuot, traditionally one of the three joyous pilgrimage festivals, in which the hallel – a collection of verses of praise – is recited. On the day of the shooting, the first day of Shavuot, Cantor Sam Radwine acknowledged these words from the Hallel: (Psalm 118:17) “Lo Amut, Ki echyeh, Va-asaper ma-aseh Yah—I shall not die, but live and will tell of God’s divine creation.” as “not just a statement of faith” but also as an urgent call to “compel us and all humanity to work for Tikkun Olam, the perfection and preservation of all of God’s creation.” I feel the need to celebrate ourselves with all that we are, as part of God’s creation, more urgently than ever before.
May we, currently divided into many different letters of identities that separate us, use our energy and optimism to overcome the barriers and fences of the past. And may we all come to live in painless harmony with each other and with all that is created.