Ongoing Stories of My Soul

Look over my shoulder as I ponder life.

Orlando Strong: Through Dance, Spoken Word and Song

I am visiting my sisters in Orlando, Florida, an annual ritual. But this time, I feel the sadness of a madman’s vengeance, taking forty-nine lives in a nightclub shooting. I must say national headlines take on a whole new tone when faced with the sad reality of actual names, photos, sentiments. Last evening, my family attended a memorial tribute at the Dr. Phillips Center of Performing Arts, entitled, ‘Beautiful Together’.

It was an evening of choral music, dance, poetry, but mostly, healing. Yes, it was a fundraiser, no, it was not framed for entertainment. It was a time for folks to gather inside this lovely venue to reflect, connect, and honor those lost souls. Outside, ordinary faces of the murdered, dotting the landscape, love notes grappling with the loss of loved ones, all now famous in a gruesome, statistical mass shooting. Let me begin by saying that I was moved by the expressions of sympathy from around the world. Authentic words, lovely-yet-dying-flowers, and a somber atmosphere. It was like an ecumenical funeral. Strangers by face, ethnicity, addresses….yet pressed into one soul as hearts continued to hum that drone of grief. To me, it was fitting that every life lost that night was being honored unanimously, on many corners of this city. Outside the Pulse Nightclub, the Orlando Regional Medical Center, and now, outside this center for the performing arts.

 Is not music and dance the language of the gods? As those young folks gathered to celebrate in revelry they never dreamt that one, so full of hate and confused thinking, would exchange the Latin beat of ‘musica’ to the horror of rapid-fire, military-built weapons of execution. But the gathering of the ‘Orlando Strong-Orlando United-Beautiful Together’ was lovely. Petals fell from the ceiling onto the stage as each name was read.

When the symphony, conducted by Eric Jacobsen, began their musical story, those opening notes sounded, well, much like a pulse. I do not believe I imagined that. The soloist sang in Spanish, and while the words were foreign to my ears my heart understood completely. The conductor/cellist accompanied a ballerina in an elegant performance which—when she slipped on one of the petals, drew a gasp from the audience. Did you gasp with the the world when the breaking news of massacre flashed across our screens?

The vocal musicians tugged at our hearts with amazing arrangements of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’,’You’ll Never Walk Alone’,’Bridge Over Troubled Waters’,’True Colors’, ‘Let There Be Peace on Earth’,’Simple Gifts, ‘Let it Be’. I only wish that for a brief refrain, we all could have sung ‘Over the Rainbow’ with the choirs. Why? Because as we gathered at the center, a huge rainbow had crept out of torrential rains, reminding us that love wins. The profound words of Maya Angelou, “I Will Rise” made us think, giggle, and utter a silent “Amen.” The ‘Adagio for Strings’ by Berber, put this listener at Heaven’s gate.

 I am ever grateful that folks donned their angel costumes following the performance, and encircled the memorial yard. These are the same folks who stood, side by side, to prevent hate-filled zealots’ appearance to mar the victims’ funerals. It was sure privilege to thank them individually for their presence; a simple gift indeed. I share this story to tell the families, whose lives will forever be changed, that strangers stand with them in the silent darkness, with heavy hearts and authentic prayers. We may not share the same god, politics, languages, yet have we all not buried that person our world cannot live without?

This incident picks the scab and scar of us all. Grief is very universal. And in these times of unexplainable circumstances, I too, turn to music. The old hymn, penned in the 1800’s by: George Croly, entitled, Spirit of’ God, Descend Upon my Heart’ gave me this directive:

         “Spirit of God, descend upon my heart, 
                            Wean it from earth, through all its pulses move; 
                             Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art
                             And make me love Thee as I ought to love.” 

 It is pretty simple theology that we cannot love God and hate man…and this may be the most life-changing lesson of all. The city of Orlando is to be commended for taking a horrific incident and weaving it into a rather lovely tapestry of humanity. When the performance was over, we were thanked for coming. Conductor, Mr. Jacobsen, turned and humbly uttered the words, “Beautiful together.” Beautiful indeed.