I know what it means to have a special, local grief that "outsiders" simply cannot understand. Most of my out-of-state friends had no idea how profoundly the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger affected the space enthusiasts of Central Florida: many of us had watched the actual explosion on that cold, January day, and have the image of the falling pieces burned deeply into our memories.

Remembering this helps me when I shake my head in puzzlement at the emotion-packed remembrances that return each year on the anniversary of Orlando's Pulse nightclub shooting.

Although I live in Central Florida, I was 1300 miles away when the shooting occurred. It was not exactly big news in small-town New Hampshire, and I had better things to do than pay close attention to news reports. So for me the event lacks the personal element that made the Challenger disaster so painful.

Thus, I can point out what is obvious to an outsider, and ask the question: What is so special about the lives lost in one small nightclub in the city of Orlando on June 12, 2016? Why has the area become a shrine? Why are there so many remembrances and memorials every year? Why does the event have its own Wikipedia entry?

To put the deaths into context, here are some statistics for Florida's Orange County, of which Orlando is the major city. The data are from 2018 because I have nothing more recent.

Fifty people died in the Pulse nightclub shooting. On average in Orange County, 50 people die every two days, week in and week out, year after year. In a little over nine days that many will die of cancer. Car crashes will take fifty lives every three and a half months, and in four months there will be that many suicides. The pre-COVID-19 influenza and pneumonia deaths reach 50 in less than five months. Ordinary murders? Five and a half months. (Here's the site from which I grabbed the numbers; play around with it if you wish.)

To see it another way, Orange County's COVID-19 death toll currently stands at 48, only two short of the number of people who died in the Pulse shooting.

The truth is, there's a lot of death going around. Every day. And there is absolutely nothing new about that. As the saying goes, the death rate is the same everywhere: one person, one death, sooner or later. Only a very few of those deaths come peacefully and painlessly, after a long life well-lived. I cannot see how being shot in a nightclub is any worse, more tragic, or more worthy of remembrance, than being knifed in the dark, or dying in a car crash, or drowning, or becoming a COVID-19 statistic. It puzzles me.

Then I remember Challenger. We all have our own, private griefs. But it still puzzles me why the Pulse event is such a public grief, or should I say such a private grief to so many people who lost no one there and had never even heard of that once-obscure Orlando night club.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, June 20, 2020 at 12:06 pm | Edit
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Being an "outsider" is exactly what makes this tragedy different for some. Pulse was a special place to many people because of the safety and security that it provided. Although it may have appeared to be simply a nightclub, gay bars have frequently been the only place where gays and lesbians could go and be themselves, without the fear of being beaten-up or worse.

The shooting shattered that safety net. As the tragedy unfolded, the first of its type at a gay bar, it did not seem outside the realm of possibility that Pulse was targeted explicitly for that reason. In fact, although evidence given at trial indicates that Pulse may not have been a premeditated destination, evidence does suggest that the shooter's motive included homophobia.

Thus, for a mass murder to occur in what was a sanctuary for some people is why it hit home for others in the community more than it did you.

Posted by David July on Saturday, June 20, 2020 at 3:17 pm

Thanks, David. That's the kind of clarification I was looking for. Still, it has become important to the general public—to people who never knew before that Pulse existed—in a way that surprises me. I tend to be fascinated by which events capture the public's imagination, and which do not. I don't find it very predictable.

Posted by SursumCorda on Saturday, June 20, 2020 at 6:07 pm
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