Monday, June 27, 2016

The Orlando pause button.

"There's a time to laugh, a time to cry, 
a time to live and a time to die,
a time to break and a time to chill, 
to act civilized and act real ill."

~ Rapper's Delight

I broke down crying in front of my small group of medical students the other day. I didn't mean to. It just sort of happened. One moment I was talking about one thing, and the next minute I was trying to talk with my mouth hinged open and nothing coming out but mushy squeaks. 


We'd just finished up the human sexuality module and I was tasked with debriefing with my group of first year medical students. A panel of patients had just sat before them speaking of their own stories of sexuality and how it affects their lives. Things like identities and behaviors and feelings and religion and joy and pain and sunshine and rain. And all of it was super important to discuss.


So, as scheduled, we headed upstairs to our small group work room to share thoughts and talk through feelings about all that we'd heard. And I know that this group is thoughtful and transparent so I wanted to give this moment the time that it deserved. I truly did.

Only I didn't.

See, this took place on a Tuesday. To be exact, it was the Tuesday after the 49 happy, smiling, dancing and likely imbibing human beings were massacred in what had felt like a safe place. Most young. One a mother grooving at a nightclub in solidarity next to her manchild. Per the stories, she hollered out to him to run and he did. She took a bullet and lost her life. He lived. And then there were the beautiful faces of the others that I'd studied one by one on websites and in magazines. The majority of them immortalized by bold, unapologetic selfies taken at their own hands. Something about that made me feel like a kindred spirit to them all.


I am haunted by that awful event. I am and I accept that I am. I am especially drawn to and haunted by that mother--whose name was Brenda Lee Marquez-McCool. Even though I didn't know her personally, I mourn the loss of her life and count her as one of my heroes. One, she was brave. And two, she loved her boy unconditionally. Her boy was a same-gender-loving brother. And how cool is it that she not only supported her son, she also danced with him in a club on the day she died?


And so. While I had every intention of talking about human sexuality from the perspective of our curriculum, I didn't. I mean, at that time I just couldn't.


As time goes by I am recognizing the power of my influence more and more. So I needed my advisees to know that this happening trumped anything else we were supposed to discuss. I wanted them to have a space to touch and agree and feel something, anything together. Or find that feeling if somehow it had been swirled into life like a teaspoon of yucky medicine in apple sauce--there but not really.

I sat down and looked at their faces in that room. None of them older than 27 years old. All of them representing some different appendage of their own diaspora but still all belonging to this tribe now.  One of them, that I know of, same-gender-loving, too. Another of Muslim faith and observant. And especially, all of them special and amazing and people whose lives matter to me deeply.


So with all of that in my mind, I opened my mouth and tried to speak on all of this stuff. Well, I take that back. First, I tried to talk about what we were supposed to talk about. But then, I closed my laptop, then closed my eyes for a moment to hold back the tears I felt stinging in my eyes.

"I'm supposed to talk to you about what you just learned about," I finally eked out. "But instead I need us to talk about the fact that 49 human beings lost their lives Sunday morning. And, yeah. I know that these shootings are happening a lot. A whole lot. But I . . ." My voice trailed off and started crackling. I tried my best to clear it and go on. "I need to honor them. And what happened. And I need it to not get all lost into this abyss of how cruel the world can be and count as just another thing. Because even if it was that. . . it wasn't that."

They just stayed silent. One student immediately started to cry.

"I need you to know how sorry I am that this is the reality that you have in your twenties. How sad I am that this hate crime against the LGBT community is going to make somebody feel lonelier for so many reasons. And angry, too. How hurt I am that this will make even more people misunderstand my peaceful, thoughtful brothers and sisters who practice Islam. But especially that it will just leave you a little bit more afraid, you know?"

And it's weird. Nobody was really saying anything with their mouths. But they all had these expressions on their faces that spoke volumes. Then, in between being a soppy, weepy mess, I needed to be clear that this was a hate crime and that we needed to hit the pause button for a moment to say that.


Okay, so can I just unpack for two seconds on that part? I think the Orlando massacre is one of most complicated and effed up things that could possibly happen anywhere. But since it happened in America, like many, I'm guilty of needing to label it with some clear compartment of what it was. And I think it comforts us to treat those compartments as if they're mutually exclusive, you know? But I'm realizing that they aren't.

They aren't.

How people see same-gender loving people in this country (and this world) is a major problem. It has this ripple effect that makes people turn inward to hate themselves as much as one can possibly hate anyone or anything. And everyone knows that self hate always ends in hurt directed toward others. So all the subtle shit-talking that I've heard over the years that I never spoke up on? I'm trying to be braver. Like, call things out or at least not stay indifferent, you know? Because that's like watching a mugging in broad daylight and just thinking the whole time that it's really, really fucked up. But not doing anything.

At least that's what I think.

And here's the other thing. The gun control aspect is relevant. I mean, it is. It is relevant as hell, you know?  But I don't want that to totally overshadow the fact  that it was a hate crime. Yeah. I guess that's what I'm saying. Better yet--here's an analogy: Like, if my son was playing outside on a street that should be safe and a person comes speeding down the street hollering at the top of their lungs that they HATE-HATE-HATE black boys and that they should die. . . .and then mows down my kid with a car, crashes into a tree and dies? That would be some tragic shit, right?

And if that car was like, a hot rod, and we could all agree that no person should need a hot rod for everyday use and that it's just too damn easy to get a hot rod, that would be also worth talking about, too.

I mean, it would. But you know what would be even more tragic to me? If I turned on my television and the only conversation (that got any real airplay) was about how we need to control the speeding laws on that street and stop people from having lead feet on gas pedals or access to hot rods.  With very little mention the fact that this man went after my baby as a target with that hot rod. With every intention of eliminating him because, as he chanted out loud and even said prior to turning the key in the ignition, he HATE-HATE-HATES black boys and they should be eliminated. That would be like insult to injury, don't you think?

I do.

And let's be clear--the hot rod and speeding issue is significant and worth marching on Washington about. But it isn't the only problem in this situation, you feel me?

Oh, and if that man looked like me and also said that he represents all of the people who are just like me before doing that? And if everybody thought ill of people like me because he unfairly associated me and my people with his hateful act--when really people like me are nothing like that? Man. That would hurt, too. Especially if it happened during one of the most meaningful times of the year for my people. And especially if nobody seemed to mention how wrong it was and how hurtful that part could be to me, either.

But none of it can be put in just one box, right? My point is just that I want us to not ignore certain boxes. Or even walk around like the boxes were never there in the first place. Does that even make sense?

Sigh. I'm rambling. I know.

So, yeah. That's what happened a few weeks back and I was fine with it. I gave them space to debrief, too, and ended the whole conversation by telling them how much I love them and how much each of their precious lives deeply matters to me. And they got that. They did.

They did.

I'm working hard at being a better steward of my influence with my learners. Shooting down complacency and showing emotion when it's necessary. Because a lot of times it is necessary.


And one other thing:

That mother? That beautiful, brave mama bear Brenda Lee Marquez-McCool who dove on the sword and died in the club shielding her beautiful boy from that hateful man's gunfire? Her boy's name was Isaiah

Just like mine.


Happy Monday. And rest in paradise, Ms. Brenda. You sound like you were my kind of chick.


  1. I'm sitting at my desk trying so hard not to cry right now. I'm one of those that jumped straight to the gun issue as I have known some victims of mass shootings in Colorado. But you just made my head whip because you are so right. That isn't the main issue here. The HATE. HATE has been the root of all of these tragedies, hasn't it? The HATE was directed at different groups for different reasons but... So, while I've been lobbying my politicians since this happened and will continue to do so, you've pointed out we also need to be focusing on LOVE. Spreading LOVE and shining LOVE into the dark corners of HATE. It seems so overwhelming, but that is what I will start working the hardest on. LOVE. Thank you for unpacking with us. ~Sarah Mouncey from Columbus, OH

    1. Thank you for your insights, Sarah, and for all that you are doing. Keep fighting.

  2. This absolutely the best thing I have read on the Orlando hate crime! Sure we need better gun control...better screening...better everything. But what we truly need is less hate...more love.

  3. This is so soulful.It brought me to tears. You have managed to put the thought of so many people beautifully. Hate will soon come to an end. All this needs to stop and will stop.


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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