When I was 14 we moved to a small town called Apopka. Even though I only lived there for 4 years, it was more of a home to me than some of the other cities I lived in. Mostly because of the people and the friends I made. High school has a way of doing that to you. Fun fact that I believe (may or may not be true): small towns in Florida are really just made small by the fact that they're surrounded by gorgeous lakes and large orange groves. To do anything "fun" (not including beach trips, or other things that I consider fun like reading books, etc.) you'd have to go up to Daytona or go down to Orlando. The drive was about 45 minutes. It wasn't very often I went there with my family, except the handful of times I had visited my brother who lived close to the airport. I would go mostly with friends. I remember several times going to Lake Eola for a walk around there, or going to the malls downtown. Every time I went I just remember being in awe of how big the city looked in comparison to the little small town just 45 minutes away.
In central Florida there are so many different cultures packed into one small area. Because of this, I have grown to appreciate people for who they are, and that everyone is different. Not only have an appreciation, but love them. I have several friends from this time in my life who are African American, from Puerto Rico, Gay, Lesbian, Canadian, from the North East states, from the Western states, my list could continue. The rich diverse culture you experience in central Florida is probably the best part of living there.
I was the only Mormon girl at my high school. Just one teenage girl surrounded by so many different beliefs. It was truly amazing to get that perspective on my life and my beliefs at such a young age. Surrounded by all this culture, you would think that others would come to just accept each other. The majority of the people did, but I remember on several occasions having to explain my religion to others who told me (didn't ask me) that I was going to be wife #15 someday, or that I have horns and they only come out at the full moon. Oh the stories people make up about other religions and people. There were quite a few days after being told my religious beliefs from several people that I would leave school feeling tiny. Feeling insignificant. Not feeling like I mattered. At the time of course I thought it was such a huge deal and this is just how life was. However looking back I realize it's just a small amount of what other people go through on a regular basis. I also realized this was just a small group of people who didn't represent all of the great people I knew in Florida, who were accepting and kind to me.
Because of the small amount of persecution, for choosing to live the way I did, I decided I would never want to cause anyone to feel that way about themselves personally. It truly helped me realize that we are all human beings with feelings. We all have our own beliefs. We all have the rules that guide our lives. We all deserve respect, kindness, and love.
On Sunday June 12, 2016 an atrocity occurred in the city I consider my old stomping grounds. 49 people were gunned down for the way they choose to live their lives. Just for choosing to go to a bar that night, and not just any bar, but the known bar in central Florida for LGBTQ community. My heart has been torn apart by this news. I was in denial that kind of hate existed in this world. I thought that we as a society had at least gotten past that much hate. I remember sitting reading all of these articles, thinking "This has to be a different Orlando. This cannot be the Orlando, Florida I know."
My personal religious beliefs do not coincide very well with the LGBTQ community. However, that does not mean that I cannot love and be kind to the individuals of this community for who they are. That does not mean I can't offer some type of feeling of remorse for how others are choosing to treat them. The great thing about the country we live in is that we can and we all do have differing opinions.
The person who ripped this much hate into the City Beautiful in just a few hours caused a type of fear I'm sure people didn't know existed in their bodies. This kind of paralyzing fear is one that I've never personally experienced. However, reading previous survivors stories from mass shooters, or bombings, can give me at least a glimpse into this. The person who did this was run by hate and fear. Two traits, that when combined, are lethal in a human.
So much has been talked about the last few days on how to prevent this in the future. I have no answers. No answers on either side of the political aisles, no answers on why this happened, just no answers.
However, I do have a thought on what we can do for each other. What we can do for each other is be kind.
Be kind without judgement.
Be kind because you don't know who isn't being kind to them.
Be kind because it's how your Mom raised you.
Be kind because it's what Jesus would do.
Be kind because you agree on something.
Be kind because you don't agree on something, and that's beautiful.
Be kind because you can relate to their situation.
Be kind because you can't relate to their situation and don't know what it's like.
Be kind because we can all relate to being human.
Be kind because we are all humans and deserve the right to be treated with kindness and respect no matter our race, no matter our gender, no matter how we identify, no matter which college team we choose to support during football season, and no matter anything else, everyone deserves the basic right to be treated kind.
We have seen this word turned into a verb over the last several days as we've seen a wonderful community rally around each other. I mentioned above that I didn't possibly think that that was my Orlando. However the more I read about the "helpers" the more I see my Orlando. My Orlando is having too many people in line to donate blood that they had to turn them away. My Orlando is those who couldn't donate blood instead donated food or time for those who were donating already. My Orlando is people hugging complete strangers because of the grief they feel together. My Orlando is the nurses who greeted each other this morning with a round of applause after only being home for a few hours to sleep and then coming back in the morning. My Orlando is the doctors shoes covered in the blood and tears of the victims as he continues to save lives. My Orlando is the men and women in uniform who may know or be close to someone who was a victim of this horrific event still putting the uniform on to go to work today. My Orlando is the hundreds (maybe thousands) of people who gathered for vigil tonight. My Orlando is the wands raised at Harry Potter world for the victim who worked there. My Orlando is not *just* home to one of the worst gun crimes in history. My Orlando is home to the people who have volunteered time, blood, sweat, and tears into the last several days to try and help repair the damage that someone ripped into the City Beautiful in a matter of minutes.
I would like to imagine that by simply just being kind would help fix major problems, however I know it won't fix everything 100%, it certainly won't bring back the individuals lost due to this (and past) horrendous acts, but could you imagine living in a world where everyone was at least kind to each other, despite differing beliefs? That's a beautiful thought.