You remember where you were when you found out. Maybe you heard it on the news, or maybe you saw it on social media. Or maybe a loved one contacted you asking if you were okay and you didn’t understand. Why are they asking if you’re okay? Of course you’re okay. But you’ll never forget the terrible feeling of realizing that this time, it was your city that was hit by a terrorist attack, or a mass shooting, or something equally awful. It didn’t happen in some country on the other side of the ocean, or a distant city you’ve never seen. No, this time it’s your home.
We live in a world where sadly we’re not surprised to hear that there’s been another attack somewhere. It’s part of the world we live in. Maybe you’ve even told someone that you’re afraid to travel because of it. But when an attack happens in your own city, you realize how silly and fragile that idea sounds. Even staying put becomes dangerous.
I remember where I was a year ago. I woke up to a text message asking if I was okay. It was my day off. I had just started a new job at Disney World and was living with my aunt in Orlando. I didn’t understand the text. I logged into Facebook and didn’t see too much out of the usual, until I saw that another Orlando friend had marked herself “safe.” I then spent the next hour searching for answers. Where was the attack? Who was there? Did I know anyone who was? How did this happen? And why?
I remember where I was three weeks ago when I saw a Facebook status that said “Praying for Manchester.” My heart sank again. They couldn’t mean Manchester, England, could they? The status was posted by an American, of all people. But finding out there had in fact been a bombing in Manchester, England, a city I had also called home once, hit me like a ton of bricks exactly like the news of the Pulse shooting had done. Even though I no longer lived in Manchester, I still knew people who did. I knew people who were at the concert that night. Thankfully they were fine, but they might not have been. Even though I’ve been gone for four years, the attack still felt personal.
When it’s your city on the news, it feels personal. It’s different than hearing about an attack that took place far away. Suddenly you care very much about the names of the people. Were they a co-worker? A friend of a friend? Your favorite barista? Or God forbid, someone you were close to. The entire world changes then. You spend hours tracking down everyone you can think of, making sure they are okay.
In the days that followed the Pulse shooting, I wanted to know their stories. I waited as each name slowly got released. I cried for the Disney cast members and Universal team members who were affected because even if I had never met them, they were family. My heart broke when they finally revealed the motive behind the attack. I couldn’t believe it. Not in my city.
When it’s your city on the news, you want answers. You want to know how such hate could exist in this place that you love. It doesn’t seem real. But then as you’re grieving with your neighbors and comforting friends you suddenly realize that the rest of the world is watching, and sharing their opinion. I know for me, that realization made me angry. There were people who had never been to your city, they didn’t know the people like you did, and yet they were passing judgement. “If x had been done then this wouldn’t have happened.” Or worse, when you realize politicians start talking about it. How dare they talk about this terrible event like it’s just some other political debate. Can’t they just let us grieve?
Seeing other people who live far away share articles and opinions on social media about the event almost seems wrong. The love that comes pouring in from around the world is overwhelming, and the hate and judgement that comes from outside sources hurts more than it should. It felt so strange to see Americans commenting on the Manchester attack, even if they did so with the best intentions. And it felt weird to see people who had never lived in Orlando expressing their sorrow. I know that the Pulse shooting resonated with the whole LGBTQ community, but it still felt so strange to see people from so many places expressing their sorrow as well. I don’t think I can explain why it felt strange, but it did.
When it’s your city on the news, you don’t care what the rest of the world has to say. In a few weeks they’ll go away. They’ll stop talking about the event except for the occasional mention, usually when comparing it to other attacks. The Facebook banners and temporary profile pictures will go away. When the next attack happens, eyes will turn away from your city and look to the next one. But you won’t forget. The local news headlines will continue as memorials are held, fundraisers spring up, maybe new policies are put in place. New artwork will memorialize the victims and remind you that your city is resilient. And when the anniversary of the event comes around, you’ll still remember where you were, but you’ll also know where you are. You’ll know that your city has survived. The rest of the world may have moved on, but the vigils and memorials that continue to take place in your city will mean the world to you. You’ll remember the victims by name rather than their number. It’s not about the quantity of lives lost, but about how each of those lives was valuable.
When it’s your city on the news, your world is never the same.