One year later. Three hundred and sixty-five days since one of the worst mass shooting in United States history had occurred. Fifty-two weeks since 49 angels were so viciously plucked from this Earth. And all in the place that I called home. Minutes from the very clubs I like to spend time with my friends, dancing enjoying music and having a drink. I remember seeing the news on Twitter. Then the television. Then I was driving from my hometown to Orlando to go to a concert. When I arrived in Orlando, there was this eerie feeling that followed me wherever I went. There were very few people on the streets, out in public; it seemed as if the world had stopped.
Only when the community began banding together to give back and to honor the memory of the 49 did the Earth begin rotating again. And Orlando had it spinning full speed.
Days before the one-year anniversary of the Pulse shootings, the infamous rainbows began making their heartwarming appearances. Store windows, billboards and buildings began shining the symbol for love. It gave me chills every time I set eyes on one; a reminder of the tragedy, but also a reminder of just how supportive my town was.
It was actually a weird coincidence how similar June 12, 2017 was to the unforgettable day the year before. It was gloomy weather, and I was driving to Orlando from my hometown of Stuart, exactly like I had been in 2016. My friends and I had planned to go downtown to pay our respects. We drove almost in silence, passing rainbow-lit pillars on the 408.
We parked at my friends work and called an Uber to drive us to Lake Eola. I couldn’t stop thinking how amazing it was that they were giving free rides to and from the lake and Pulse Nightclub if you used the code ORLANDOUNITED.
Nearly ten thousand people surrounded the Walt Disney Amphitheatre at Lake Eola when we arrived. The celebratory feeling of Orlando United Day (June 12 has officially been named Orlando United Day by city officials) had an underlying tone of sadness, for obvious reasons. Some people were smiling and waving flags, taking selfies. Others were crying quietly and sharing hugs. Speakers talked to the thousands of people, their voices being broadcasted to the other side of the lake. They talked about how much the community has banded together in the past year.
Being the person I am, I couldn’t help but feel the spirits of the 49 Pulse victims surrounding us, as we sang songs and talked about how their deaths have impacted Orlando as a whole. I wanted to cry, but the love being projected from all the souls who took the time to come out and honor these people was too overwhelming. It really felt like a family of likeminded people who just wanted to add their loving energy to the moment.
My favorite part of the night was when the Orlando Gay Chorus performed “Seasons of Love” from the Broadway show Rent. It’s always been one of my favorite songs, and brings tears to my eyes when I listen to it. When they announced the song, I immediately started crying. I started thinking about the lyrics, and how perfectly they fit the moment. Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure, measure a year? Let’s celebrate, remember a year in the life of friends. Remember the love, measure in love. Seasons of love.
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes had passed that day 49 innocent souls were killed, because of the way they love.
I’ll never understand why this happened, or why similar tragedies continue to happen. I think that’s why I’ve finally decided to start writing about it. Putting it into words seems to help make some sense of it. Either way, in the moments since June 12, 2016, I’ve learned something about humanity, and about myself. One senseless act of violence, no matter how big, will always overshadow the sheer love we naturally have in our hearts. I heard someone once say, we are only here for three reasons: to give love, to receive love, and to be love. It’s so simple to forget the good in the world when it seems there’s so much bad. But when you take the time to remember, that we are love, the world starts to become a little clearer.