Wednesday, June 22, 2016

What the Pulse Vigil Meant to Me

The weekend was awful even before the horrible news. I’d had surgery on my broken arm the Friday before and the pain, nausea, and trapped feeling went right along with the national mood. I was supposed to be marching with the library in the Philly Pride parade that day, but instead, I stayed in with my ex-wife/best friend, Rear Windowing the internet and intermittently crying.

By the day of Philly’s vigil, I was grateful to be unwoozy enough to attend. I considered it a personal victory that I didn’t cry in the candle section at the co-op. I was tired and scared, but I knew that when I got there, another kind of strength would carry me through.

The last time I went down to City Hall was the day I met Hillary Clinton on the eve of her Pennsylvania win, but the vigil was even more urgent and powerful. What struck me first was how on-message the crowd was, signs raised for LGBT rights alongside signs for gun control and against Islamophobia.

Philadelphia is often a segregated city, but at this vigil, as at the Hillary rally, I saw a spectrum of humanity, unified for love, peace, and progress.

After the reading of the names, after the speeches that I couldn’t quite hear and the singing that I could, (I’ve had several sleepless nights with “We Are a Gentle, Angry People” stuck in my head.) we marched around City Hall, silent and solemn, unbreakable. 

Tourists watched with curiosity and rainbowy people cheered from the sidewalks. As we rounded the corner near Broad Street, I saw a little girl with curly blond hair and a PRIDE T-shirt standing at a crosswalk with her fist raised. I raised my fist in return and felt lucky, lucky, lucky to share a world with her. A tall, exuberant transwoman in black lace and stilettos tried to start a “Hillary! Hillary!” chant, but the magic silence soon prevailed.

After the march, there were the candles.

One bank of candles felt the most sacred. The air was almost dewy with prayer and I felt at peace in a way that I hadn’t for months.

There was a singalong in the street. I joined in on “Let It Be” and “Lean on Me” and “This Little Light of Mine.” We all had fun realizing we didn’t know the words to “Born This Way.”

My arm was hurting and I was feeling pretty faint, but it took Amy and me a long time to leave.

The week that followed would be full of sadness and anger, but at the vigil, I got flowers and a hug.

That night, my life and the lives of forty-nine hate crime victims counted for something, and I resolved to do my best to keep the love and belonging of that night with me, by working to stop gun violence, by strengthening my ties to my GLBTQ+ community, and by getting back to campaign work as soon as I can. I want to honor those lives by spending mine wisely, on love.

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