Flickering Lanterns and Pride: A Memorial to Orlando

By Amee Bohrer

Twice, my flame flickered out tonight.

I was attending a local memorial service in honor of the Orlando massacre victims in Minooka, IL. A small town just outside of Joliet, where I live. I saw on Facebook a friend was attending and drove out there myself, wanting to gather with others in solidarity.

There were people gathered and three posters on a wooden table if anyone wanted to sign and write a message of hope and encouragement. I signed a couple– it felt good.

I saw a baseball cap that made me laugh: it said, “Make America Gay Again,” a navy and yellow parody hat of the red and white “Make America Great Again” caps touted by the Trump campaign and his supporters.

“I like your hat!” I told the young woman wearing it with pride, “Where’d you get it?”

“The Human Rights Campaign website,” she said with a smile.

The last speaker was the most powerful: Beric J. Wessely, a man with a Master of Social Work from University of St. Francis in Joliet who has accomplished much in the academic world for the LGBT community and in the business world as well. But he was brave enough to be vulnerable and admit that despite being an out gay man for years, he still must remain vigilant about how others around him seem to react to his presence, especially if he has a date.

He called for ACTIVE allies who speak up and fight for gun control and acceptance of the LGBT community. He challenged us to do more than post on social media or engage in moments of silence. He invited us to join the crusade toward not just equality, but basic safety for the LGBT community. He recounted how far we have come in terms of legal gay rights, and yet, how far we must continue to go. He ended on a message of hope: tonight, with us, he felt safe.

To conclude after three powerful speakers, a man said a beautiful prayer about how all those who died or were wounded that night at Pulse had grown up and learned to ride bikes. They had danced, they had been loved, and now mourned– they mattered.

It was windy, getting dark.

The lanterns were simply constructed:a wooden base, four wooden cylinders that fit into the corners of the square, a circle indented into the base where a tea light fit, and green tissue paper wrapped around to shelter the tea lights. But as I noticed, there were gaps between the paper and the base. The wind was getting through, increasingly stronger.

Two women alternated reading the list of names, those lives lost forever and those wounded still healing– some of which may not make it. We stood holding our lanterns.

After, between them they set alight a larger paper lantern, propelled into the sky by several candles.

All of stood in silence, watching it fly away.

It was the best moment of the night– something positive to remind us it’ll get better. Together, we can be the rainbow of allies and hope for this cause we all support: love.

Just simply, love.

Many of our candles flickered out, but that larger paper lantern never faltered. It floated away swiftly- free. Like the souls lost who must now be at rest, whether you believe in Heaven or not. I do.

Watching until it was just a glimmer and finally, nothing– I smiled.

Tonight we stood witness, we listened, we shared our outrage, sadness, and hope.

We dared to overcome hate.

From Illinois, we opened our hearts and mourned WITH Orlando.

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