‘We are dancing, dancing for our lives’

By Jim Healey
Reader Contributor

Once again we are faced with the senselessness of the actions of a lost soul.

The ever-so-familiar discourse replays anew. President Obama stands in front of a microphone and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. All of the appropriate people—Trump, Clinton, Sanders, the governor of Florida, the mayor of Orlando, representatives from different LGBT groups, and so on—are outraged and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. The talking heads on Fox News, CNN, and CNBC are devoting countless television hours to blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Nation-wide vigils are held, candles are lit, and flowers are placed on makeshift tributes. Tears are shed, the grieving process unfolds, and soon the recent dead become mere numbers—filed under the category of “the deadliest mass shooting in the United States.” The noise increases, and it then becomes political, cultural, and religious. Lines are drawn, positions are outlined, and wagons are circled.

Days pass here in Sandpoint, and soon it will be Fourth of July. Summer winds down, and it is time to pick huckleberries and watch the shortening of days. Then Thanksgiving and Christmas and a new year, and the Pulse in Orlando joins the growing list of other places—such as Columbine High School; Sandy Hook Elementary School; Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colo.; Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virg.; Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.; and the Regional Center in San Bernardino—where mass shootings occurred.

Life continues on as we know it except for the families, friends, and acquaintances of those whose lives were extinguished by Omar Mateen.

Do I sound cynical? Do I sound like I am “comfortably numb” with news such as what happened in Orlando? Maybe I’m tired. Maybe I’m frustrated feeling powerless once again. Maybe I don’t know what to do. Move over, ostrich. I need more sand in which to bury my head.

But wait! Isn’t this the easy thing to do? I mean, “What can I do up here in North Idaho?” Well, begin in your home, at school, in your neighborhood, at church, at the health club, around the campfire, at work; wherever you find yourself.

Claim ownership of your environment and take a stand against hate. When you hear the word “nigger” used, say “Ouch!” When someone calls another person “faggot” in your presence, say “Ouch!” The next time you hear Hillary Clinton referred to as a “bitch,” say “Ouch!” And the next time you hear someone saying that he/she “jewed” a price down at a yard sale, say “Ouch!” Let family members, friends, and daily contacts know that hate and how it is expressed is never, ever tolerated.

Thanks to Idaho’s “Add the Words” campaign (www.addthewords.org), the word “Ouch” is empowering. You are letting other people know that your ears find hateful language offensive and unacceptable. Hateful words that people use do not exist in a vacuum. Language embodies attitudes, beliefs, and worldviews. Change begins with you. One person and one word at a time.

Now, I am not so foolish as to believe that “Ouch” could have stopped or even made a difference to Omar Mateen. But isn’t it scary to live in a world where witnessing two men kissing in public—something which straight people do all the time—could possibly set in motion the tragic events that occurred at Orlando’s Pulse?

Me? I realize that I could be jailed or even executed in some countries because I am a homosexual. In fact, I don’t even have to leave the shores of this country to become a casualty of another person’s hate. Matthew Shepard comes to mind along with the murdered people at the Pulse. And there are people here in north Idaho who hate me for who I am. That is just the way things are. For right now.

But there are also people who love me for who I am, my gayness included. I will never let my life be defined by the Omar Mateens of the world. I find comfort in the lyrics of Holly Near’s “Singing for Our Lives”:

We are a gentle, angry people

We are a justice-seeking people

We are young and old together

We are a land of many colors

We are gay and straight together

We are a gentle, loving people

And we are singing, singing for our lives.

After the dead have been eulogized and buried, after all the tributes have been said, and after all the candles have gone out, you will find me on the dance floor of the Pulse in Orlando. Come join me for “we are dancing, dancing for our lives.”

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