A year ago this weekend, life changed. See, a year ago, 49 people were senselessly murdered 9.2 miles from our house, while we all slept safely in our beds. A year ago, our boys, learned that there is violence in the world. A year ago, our boys woke up to news that a group of people had been targeted. They learned words they had never thought to know. They learned about loss, racism, hate, LGBTQ, they learned…that the world they are a part of, is not an innocent world. More than anything, they learned, that this city, can come together and show true, honest love.
A year ago, we as parents had to make the hard decision to tell our boys about the events at Pusle night club in Orlando. You might be thinking, “Why would we tell them?” “They are so young.” “They didn’t need to know.”
And the answer is quite simple. As a couple, and now, as a family, we believe that it is our job, our responsibility, our purpose to protect our kids. But, in that protection, we also believe it is our purpose to be honest. To answer the questions. To ensure that our boys hear the hard things from us, because honestly, what they hear out there in the world, may not be the Truth we want them to know and believe.
9.2 miles. Process that. That’s no further than some people run on an average day. It’s shorter than most people drive to work. It is close enough that we could be there in less time than it takes to drive to our favorite splash pad. 9.2 miles separated our boys from the horror that took place the night before. There was NO way to keep this out of their world. No way to keep them from hearing what had happened.
We talked as parents for a long time that morning, we talked about what to say. We talked about how much to say. We talked about using words and vocabulary that might take away their innocence. But in the end, we felt it was important that our 6 and 8 year old little boys, heard from us, what we believe and how we show our beliefs. Because, with something so painful as what had occurred the night before, they needed to understand that even with all of that pain, we can still be strong, we can still stand together, and we can continue to make an impact. Our boys, needed to hear from us, that even in the worst of times, we have to know our beliefs. We have to find our strength. And we have to go on, because allowing the bad in the world to stop us in our tracks, allows the bad to win. And we can’t let the bad win.
So we talked. And we talked for a long time with our boys. We talked about what had happened. We answered their questions to the best of our ability. Why did it happen? Why those people? What does it mean to be gay? Why don’t people like gay people? We talked to our boys about love. And we talked to our boys about our belief in love. And our belief that anyone should be free to love whoever they want to love. Because we believe that we are all created differently. We believe that who you love does not define you. We believe that it is our sole purpose in life to ensure that we do whatever we can to love and care for all of the people who come into our lives. No matter their color, their belief system, their gender, their orientation.
As parents, if our boys learn anything from us, we want them to learn to love, and to love well. And there are not stipulations on that love. It is not a chart with some people being more deserving than others. We talked about how as Christians, we believe that God calls us to love as Jesus loved. Putting others before ourselves and finding comfort in knowing that if we do that, if we truly love those around us, then our own needs will be met.
As we took our boys into the world that day, to a swim meet with over 500 swimmers, and then on for the rest of the week and months to come…they would hear things. They would hear what others felt and see signs in Orlando, both supportive and hate fueled. They heard about a ‘church’ coming to protest the funerals of those who were killed. And we talked. We talked. We talked. We hugged. We encouraged. We listened. We reminded. All day, any time it was needed, that our job, is to love. Unconditionally, without judgement.
A year later, our boys had another swim meet, and on the way over, we saw a “One Love” banner. Our sweet loving boys, remembered what the banner represented. And they began to talk about it. They talked about how they can’t understand why it would be bad to have two mommies (or daddies). They reminisced about time spent with two of our favorite people recently, who happen to be a very committed and loving couple. See, for them, it’s normal. They have friends with parents who are the same gender. When they see two people kiss who are the same gender, they don’t turn away, because for them, it isn’t any different than when they see us kiss. They see it as love. They talked about how they don’t want to see anyone get hurt. They talked about how it is okay to be different. They talked about how pretty the banner was. As I listened, I was reminded that even with knowing what happened that day, the horror that this city faced, our boys didn’t take away fear. They took, from all of the anger and hate of that night, the importance of love.
As we prepare to leave Orlando, a little piece of our hearts will stay here. Our boys will be forever changed because of the events of that night and the love this city has continued to show. The beautiful buildings lit up in colors, the Orlando Eye with its rainbow, Disney world and their fireworks, the flags being flown in businesses and windows, banners all around as we drove from place to place, 49 colorful stadium seats seen from the road as they finished construction on the new soccer stadium. The conversations aren’t always easy, and the questions about that day aren’t easily answered, but we will be forever grateful to the people of this city who have spent a year honoring the lives of those who were lost and helping to show our boys how to love, and how to love unconditionally.
Today we will continue to remember those who were lost a year ago, we will hold our boys a little tighter tonight, and we will continue to pray that the message of love will spread far and wide.