Thursday, 26th June 2016
When I heard the news about the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, I cried for three days straight.
To say that this is difficult to talk about — to explain, in words, how some tragedies are beyond language — is really a pointless effort.
And yet, poetry gets to the heart of the matter. Poetry uses words, takes possession of emotion through language, and distills it down to the most essential parts. As a poet, words are my currency. As a poet, wordless emotions are my constant impossible task.
I couldn’t write anything for a while: because I didn’t know what to say. Because there really isn’t anything to say that will make it better. Because it’s hard to speak through crying, even on paper. Because I couldn’t grasp why I was so emotionally wrecked by something that happened on the other side of the world, to people I had never met, didn’t know, with whom I wasn’t connected through any relevant degrees of separation. Because I questioned why I was feeling this way at all.
Say what we will about social media: it holds power. A friend of mine shared a Buzzfeed article about how many young people were moving forward from the Orlando massacre by using the momentum and emotions to share their LGBTQ identities with their loved ones. Coming out during the shock of this tragedy, coming out of the fear, horror, and hatred — moving toward something empowering. A way to give a second life to the wonderful souls who had just lost theirs.
Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote and recited an amazingly impassioned sonnet during his Tony Awards acceptance speech. Leaning to the same impulse to put words to immutable, inexplicable sadness.
My wife’s the reason anything gets done.
She nudges me towards promise by degrees.
She is a perfect symphony of one.
Our son is her most beautiful reprise.
We chase the melodies that seem to find us
Until they’re finished songs and start to play.
When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
That nothing here is promised, not one day.
This show is proof that history remembers.
We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger.
We rise and fall, and light from dying embers
Remembrances that hope and love last longer.
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love;
Cannot be killed or swept aside.
I sing Vanessa’s symphony; Eliza tells her story.
Now fill the world with music, love, and pride.
I’m not LMM, and I’m not accepting any awards. But I took the opportunity to come out to my friends and family, to my wider circle of friends and acquaintances, and to share another light on the many lives we are born into.
On Orlando: The Unmaking of Joy
by Emma Sedlak
It’s virtually impossible to find the right words in the face of mass tragedies like the shooting in Orlando. In fact, it’s virtually impossible to find any words at all.
The poet Donte Collins writes: “I don’t have language. I don’t have language. I throw up my hands. I weep.”
I read Donte’s writing, where he talks about his journey: “I think of national coming out day. Of pride. I think of sweat seeping back into the body. The unmaking of joy. I think of 16-year-old Donte afraid to cross his legs.”
I think of my heart, and how it hurts right now. My heart is with anyone whose heart has been broken. Any hearts that have stopped beating. Any hearts who wish they could have.
Any beautiful humans who have left us, and any lives that have come to their untimely, impossible conclusion.
These are moments that are excruciating to share through words, but I offer up these ones because the shootings at Pulse are a tragedy that has shaken the safe spaces of belonging. These spaces are difficult for many of us to carve out, and so they should be sacred. And the hard act of carving them should be shared and celebrated.
Some of us are born into our lives already feeling like we don’t exactly fit the mould. We’re shaped into the world as we grow, and only later discover that the world often needs reshaping around us in order to feel like we fully belong. It’s not an easy process to articulate. It’s a chrysalis of un-belonging before our worlds can be remade.
Sometimes this is love. Sometimes this is a life calling. Sometimes this is part of our identity. Whatever it is, it is a skin that no longer fits, until we shed it and find that we now have wings where our scars once were.
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain
We’re born twice, and sometimes more if we’re lucky. First: coming up for air, eyes coloured by the foreign entering of light. First, we cannot hold up our heads, cannot control our mouths yet. There’s so much we cannot translate. So much effort goes into just living. The breathing, the eating, the sleeping, the interdependence.
We’re built upon villages and cities of people: the ones who feed us, the ones who raise us, the ones who keep us safe—or do none of the above, but are supposed to. We stand up as we grow, or as we raise ourselves.
Time shapes us into the humans we have always been becoming. Life forms around us in the wake of the shape we begin to make, an impression upon the world.
And then one day, we might be born again. We feel it: the pulse. The pull of something new, another foreign light, what was unknown is crossing our horizon and feels so much like home. It’s a person, a love, a new perspective, a new skin and identity. It’s what calls us, what has always been calling us. And now we have the ears to hear how the world has been speaking to us all along.
I have always been afraid I’m the only one who holds this language. Do you recognize the phrase, the handshake, or the head shake? In our second lives, we start out even lonelier than our first birth. This time, we venture out into a strange land among all the old familiars. We have to find the room in our old lives to hold space for all the new things being born. How can I be your daughter and form this new identity? How will this go, if so much of my journey depends on how graciously you can let me go?
How can I teach you my new language when I’m not fluent yet?
This second life runs the risk of making us smaller. On the precipice before we can throw a birthday party for what has woken up our lives, the impulse is to duck and hide. To take care of all our transformation in a cocoon, until we can introduce you to the finished person. Don’t look at me while I’m still being born.
We cannot hold up our heads. We cannot control our mouths yet. We don’t have the language for being in the middle of translation. So much effort goes into just living. The forming of who we are, and how the world might come to meet us, how it will reshape around us this time.
New people speak your language, and there are ways to translate it back to our old lives. The beauty is in shedding skin, and having wings—and we don’t need to be finished before we can be visible.
Life has called you. Resist the urge to turn away, feeling nervous at not having all the words yet. Don’t make yourself small, or make yourself silent. The unmaking of joy is just to make it new again, and stronger.
Originally published on The Mindful Word, June 2016