For the past several days this blog has been silent, paying respect to the fifty who died, the fifty-three who were injured, and the families who are grieving. The carnage occurred in Orlando, Florida after an evening of festivities. No one has been reported as a casualty that had committed some grievous act. No one had broken any laws of the country or state by being there. The group present represented the diversity of the nation, a nation in which people from all walks of life came to in order to live as their belief systems proposed within the confines of the constitution of the United States.
The constitution is a guiding set of principles. Given its age, it is remarkable that it has stood the test of time with few changes. Those changes are brought about by the people, voted into law by the majority and enforced by the elected and chosen representatives of the people in law enforcement, government, and the judiciary who sole purpose is to interpret the constitution of municipalities, states, and the federal system. It is not a “Do whatever you want” card nor is it a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
This constitution was written by men who had no inkling of the world in which it would be applied. Like all of us, they only knew the history they had been taught and the present time in which they were living. For some of those people, the world consisted of what passed for large towns at the time. For others, the world consisted of rural farmland. For still others, the world was uncharted territory, living under the shadow of their horse as they tentatively shared the wilderness with the American Indians who had lived there for tens of thousands of years. The present rang with the cacophony of different dialects. The air was perfumed with different recipes being prepared, and the visuals included varieties of clothing. Different people went about their daily lives in many different ways all doing, in spite of their differences, the exact same thing – living.
The constitution affords people the opportunity to live and that living requires responsible behavior. It requires understanding that one’s neighbor is not going to be a clone, might like to eat something you have never head of or tasted, probably has at least one name in their family tree you cannot spell, and might, if given the chance, just introduce you to something that is fun or tastes good or will assist you. Remove from the history of the United States all contributions made from separate and distinct cultures and the landscape of this country changes drastically.
There would not be two houses of representation that was adopted from the American Indians of the northeast. We would not have the polio vaccine invented by the son Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants from Poland nor the early research he, Jonas Salk, did on AIDS. An English immigrant and Belgian orphan would never have met and given birth to a son so we would not have the automobile nor the assembly line production that made Henry Ford famous. The British son of a Puritan minister who became a painter would not have been able to change careers in midlife and develop Morse code.
The immigration policies of the United States allowed people to find a home, people whose mixed ethnicity sometimes made that impossible. When the son of a Dutch and English couple married the daughter of a German-Swiss couple, no one thought it wrong. It was considered American since the United States was a haven for those seeking a better life. When two of their sons invented a flying machine that worked, no one refused to fly in it because of their mixed blood. Instead, they praised American ingenuity.
This is a nation of immigrants and its businesses are kept in business by those immigrants, people of different races, cultures, and belief systems. Take away that diversity and you have no nation. Where would Florida be without the “snowbirds”, those northern residents that flock to the warmer climate each year? Where would the casinos be without the tourists from other countries? Where would the flavor of this nation be without the spices of those different cultures? Where would a nation have found the ability to feed its people without the invention of a young man named Cyrus working with an African-American slave named Jo and their mechanical reaper machine that was the birth of a company called International Harvester? Indeed the history of this family reads like a history of the country: one son a proud Confederate soldier, another family member an ambassador to Europe, and a grandmother who was a leading advocate for new ideas and established educational foundations in Chicago. There are many such families in this country build upon differences.
Every now and then, however, we are reminded that some forget our beginning and history. They forget this is not a land in which one single idea will ever reign supreme, no one religion suffice for all, no dictatorship or kingdom but rather a nation of differences. Such differences require tolerance. When that is lost, then anarchy rears its ugly head. Last Saturday, amid the revelry and celebrations of the Latin culture, one rebel acted irresponsibly. Was his ex-wife not one of the #WithStrongGirls and did that prevent her from talking to an official about her ex-husband’s plans? Was the reality of their son’s possible mental illness too much for parents to accept? Was the lack of mental health care to blame? Is the gun lobby too strong and their voice overriding the actual intent of the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America?
In the past week this blog has been dark. It was a time for remembering and honoring, a time for vigils and candles, a time to grieve. The grief process includes moving forward and that we must do. We must put away our candles and take positive, affirmative action, action that affirms all this country is and that for which it stands. We must give honor to those who perished, many of whom had come here as immigrants themselves. We must honor the reasons the shooter’s family came to this country and not focus on the misrepresentation their son has given to their lives.
This was not about gay rights, excessive partying, or the political rants of presidential candidates. This was the action of a disturbed young man, unhappy with his life and far too volatile to responsibly deal with the weapons available to him. It was an incomprehensible act that has become all too well-known in recent years for us to call it a ”once-in-a-lifetime” happening.
We need to donate blood. We need to be tolerant of others. We need to have faith in our faith and let others do the same. Confident people do not need to prove their point with ugly words or weapons. They are confident their “rightness” will prove itself. They move forward. This works. It has worked in the United States of America since 1776. We need to be helping, not hurting and bullying.
There is no need for fences that belittle the reasons we are all here. One does not win an argument with a gun pointed at another. That just shows how little faith you have in your beliefs. What works is working together with respect, showing dignity to others, especially those who are different. All we do when we isolate ourselves in create a smaller pot which will boil over faster.
Let us pay real respect to those who perished one week ago by doing what works, by living a life that gives their deaths dignity. Let’s make respect, kindness, dignity, and compassion the ordinary behavior of us all. To do so will then create an extraordinary world for all.