The Collateral Damaged (An Open Letter for the Cultivation of Universal Compassion)

My dear friend,

You are special to me. And you know who you are. We have grown up together, and we have just met. We have worked together, played together, dined together, and worshiped together. We have eaten the same foods, watched some of the same TV and movies, read fewer of the same books, and don’t listen to the same music. But I am dear to you and you are dear to me. And for that I thank you.

I understand that you are having trouble coming to terms with your feelings over the Orlando Massacre this past Sunday morning. Forty-nine mostly presumably gay men and women gunned down in a gay nightclub, the worst mass shooting in US history. A troubled, disgruntled ISIS sympathizer was to blame, ISIS has taken credit (or at least wanted to share the spotlight), and now you’re scared for your safety, angry that this could happen on American soil, looking to lay blame on something larger than one shooter, and feeling simultaneously, distressingly both compassion for and dispassionate toward the victims. As a person who doesn’t really support marriage equality and is leery of homosexuality in general, some of your feelings seem a bit at odds with your politics and your faith. By Sunday morning’s news the event had already become heavily polarizing and politicized, and a young Sacramento-based Baptist minister had gone viral saying that the massacre was God’s will, and you shouldn’t mourn for the gay dead because they are “all pedophiles,” and that they all “should be rounded up and shot.” That’s not your faith as you understand it, but you’re still confused by the contradictory faith-based messages you’re hearing. I get it. I have been there and I have been you.

As a suburban white child born to parents who were both born in 1929, even though we were a seemingly liberal-minded performing arts household, we had little to no discussion about gay people in our home. My father would never discuss such things, and my mother believed in treating everyone kindly (even if they were “odd”). She wasn’t sure if homosexuality was genetic or a choice, and mostly kept an open mind toward everyone since vocal opinions were “bad for business.” In hindsight, I’d say that, just like you, my upbringing was passively homophobic, based upon the agreed upon social conventions of suburbia in the 1970s. I had a best friend with a gay mother, my mother had a high school classmate who had been in the road company of The Pajama Game that lived over the beer distributor with another man, and I had a school music teacher who was closeted, but they were the exception, not the rule. They were odd and we were normal. We didn’t persecute, but we did subconsciously, politely judge. My parents were taught right and wrong by their parents, both born in the 1800s, and they passed that value system onto me: simple, honest, and always with the belief that what they were doing was for my own good and through love. So, my friend, I hear, I understand, and I have no right to judge you; only love you for who you are, and who you could become.

My passed-on parental beliefs went unchallenged until early on in my college years and didn’t start to shift until I had almost graduated. Change is hard after all, and changing one’s mind is often hardest of all. Decades of programming and experiences had to be sifted through before I could be who I am today. And I’m happy to say that I am more open-minded, compassionate, loving, and non-judgmental than I’ve ever been….but not always. I have my bad days, my blind spots, my old grudges, and my lazy moments when I fall back on old programming. I’m better than before, but far from perfect, and I know you love me as I am, and I love you too, even though we’re both still growing beyond our programming. That’s life right? Growth and change.

So, as I said at the beginning of this letter, I know you’re having trouble sorting out your feelings, your own programming regarding this “gay tragedy.” Perhaps I can, with love and compassion, give you a different perspective to consider, one that transcends the boundaries of the minority group for whom you hold mixed feelings. To date…

 Fifty people lost their lives in this tragedy, including the shooter. That said:

  • 100 Moms and Dads lost a child
  • Moms and Dads who were struggling to accept their child
  • Moms and Dads who had
  • Moms and Dads who fought with their child when they last spoke
  • Moms and Dads who parted with an “I love you”

None of them, none of them, thought that that would be the last time they would speak, or argue, or hug, or say “I love you.”

  • 200 Grandmothers, grandfathers, Nanas, and Pop Pops lost their grandchildren. What are they to think? What has happened to our world? Why would anyone do that to their little love?
  • Untold siblings lost their big or little brother, big or little sister, their playmate, their helpmate, their bunkmate, the only one who ever understood them.
  • Untold co-workers woke up to find their friend, their colleague, their secret crush, their ex, their “thorn in their side” would never be seen at work anymore; would never make them laugh, or smile, or brighten their day.
  • Hundreds of ex-boyfriends and girlfriends learned they had run out of time to heal the past, make amends, or reconnect. A wound shall remain a wound.
  • And hundreds of current boyfriends, girlfriends, and spouses just had their world shattered and their other half ripped away.
  • 1000s of teachers, elementary, middle-school, high school, and college, woke up to find that their star or underperforming pupil, the one they rooted so hard for, invested in, believed in, went to bat for…was no more. What a waste. What a loss.
  • Hundreds of pets – cats, dogs, birds, fish, exotics – just lost their best friend, their sleep buddy, their food friend, their reason for being, their Forever Home.
  • And then, of course, there’s always the possibility that some of the dead had human children of their own, both genetic and adopted. What of them? What of them? What of them?
  • And just in case it needs to be said, most of those left behind, suffering, grieving, coping, questioning, are heterosexual like you and me.

 You see, my friend, my dear friend, no tragedy like this ever occurs in its own bubble. There is no such thing as an isolated tragedy, and this was not just a gay tragedy, or not even a human tragedy, but rather a global one. When you consider all the lives each of us touches simply by being, then magnify that by 50, then multiply that again by another 50 for the survivors, the impact is unfathomable. And if, as you scanned the list above, you felt your heart break open for those left behind, let me tell you that it’s only one short nonjudgmental step till you find compassion for the victims – all of them – those that were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and those whose childhood programming left them damaged and full of hate. I’m just up ahead around the bend on Compassion’s Road because, like you, I started from behind without knowing it.

But I know you can catch me up and even surpass me.

I have faith in you.

And I love you.

See you on the road.




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