Friday, June 16, 2017

Pulse and peace

It rained again that day, same as a year prior. We sat in the car, if for pause in the central Florida thunderstorms that are as common as clockwork in mid June. It was full dark evening as heavy raindrops pelted the windshield. We had finally come to Pulse, just shy of a year after the shooting.

I remember when I heard of it, at the Morrigan’s Call retreat last year. I knew the club, I worked for years a few blocks away. I ate at the donut and bagel shops across the street. I had cried when I heard about it, because I knew my town would never be the same.

Orlando has a unique relationship to its gay community; being driven by entertainment, has always welcomed them. I remember volunteering at the Pride parade the first year I lived here, and absolutely enjoying myself. I was as straight as they come, but I understood that this town, in its own unique way, treasured the outsiders and nonconformists. And I chuckle to think one could attend a gay pride parade and a gun show in the same weekend and not be the least bit confused. That's O town. Rainbows and rednecks.

And generally, we all get along because, well, most of us are outsiders. Few are native, most are transplants. Even me, born and raised in Florida, am not native to Orlando, but I have the spirit that fits well here. Part rainbow, part redneck.

We get out of the car during a pause in the rain, and see the cop in the unmarked car watching over the building and makeshift memorial. We walk among the items let behind on the fence: candles, posters, flowers. And names of the dead written everywhere. On posts, parking spaces, pieces of wall and fence. There are a couple of women huddled under an umbrella talking quietly, so we move to an area away from them. This was private work.
For weeks we have been doing a practice of going to historic battlefields and invoking the Morrigan through the Peace Prophecy. Our goal has been to ask for peace, to end the strife, calm the souls of the dead and remember them, to help cleanse the blood soaked earth and restore it. And it has been good work, but this was a place of fresh and raw blood and violence and sadness. This was going to be hard.

My partner began:

Sith co nem
Nem co doman…
Peace as high as the sky,
Sky to earth,
Earth to sky. ..

I swam in images, smells of gun smoke and blood, people huddled on a piss-stained floor, sounds of grown men's voices yelling. The acrid smell of fear and desperation and sweat.

And the chant went on…

Banished are sad outcries….

To each face that turned up to me in my mind I said “Sith Co nem”, may you know peace. I held the soil in my fingers, sticky from rain and blood, and struggled in my mind to hold my rage at the injustice done here in check. May there be peace….

My thoughts shifted to the three weeks I volunteered nights at the makeshift memorial downtown. Somebody had to keep the rain off it and the location provided plastic sheeting. I pulled alongside some office executive in heels and pearls, and alongside some college kids. We relit the candles after we dumped out rainwater. Muddy to the knees. Orlando protects its gay community, and we did that for their memory.

The first thing I placed on the memorial was a crow’s feather. For the dead.

Hundreds of people showed up from all over the country. Comfort dogs from Minnesota, signs from across the country. I watched an Asian man drop to his knees and formally bow nine times before the memorial, then stand up and bury his face in his partner’s shoulder and sob.

I was offered bottles of water regularly and food frequently, but politely declined. Most visitors I saw looked in silence as the outpouring of stuff got bigger and bigger and bigger

healthy under antler-points
destructive battle cries held back.

One Saturday the Westboro Baptist Church came to protest a funeral of one of the victims, and I wasn’t going to stand for it. So I made a sign that was on black poster board and read a very simple message “Respect and honor the dead”. The three WBC people practically melted in the June Florida heat and humidity, but were scared off by about 2000 counter demonstrators, of all shapes and colors. Including me, dressed in black, not chanting about love or rainbows or angels. Dressed in black, holding my stark sign, quietly. Because, after all, it was a funeral.

I then walked the three blocks back to the memorial and left my sign there. The only thing that was black without rainbows, but it was honest to my feelings.

It never mattered to me that they were gay, they were human beings slaughtered. Innocents. I didn't feel much like rainbows. I felt fucking angry about WBC.

One schmuck started ranting about assault weapons stuff. I usually get pretty hot about this, but instead calmly asked if it was his practice to use the dead to promote a political agenda, or was this a special occasion. He wandered off, I guess realizing he'd overstepped.

Not on the backs of the dead.

Be it a strong, beautiful wood, long-lasting a great boundary
'Have you a story?'
Peace to sky
be it so lasting to the ninth Generation

We poured out the small bottle of burbon we use for offerings to the Queen, and inside I wonder how a land like this could ever be at peace. My small ritual? Two devotees to the Great Queen against this kind of horror is not even a drop in the bucket, yet….it’s a start.

The stories of the dead are retold every year because it helps the living cope and heal.
I wonder if that's best for the dead and tell my partner, and she thinks about it.  We need to honor and remember the dead, but we also need to let them go. We've spend a year as a community calling out the names of the dead. Its like trying to leave a room but hearing someone call your name constantly, the dead look back, we keep them here to some extent as we mourn. And I think honoring them and asking for peace feels right, the only thing to do to both honor them and let them rest.  We drive home through the rain, a 10 minute ride.  I watch one raindrop, and doubt that one drop, one ritual, one offering, one invocation can wash away so much blood and pain.

But then I remember, this rain was what broke the worst drought in the state’s history. Put out wildfires everywhere, and restored the dead plants and grass. One drop does not end the drought. No drops continue the drought…

I'll keep doing it. One drop here, one there.