We started the run near Wall Street, our feet bouncing off the stones like hard staccato drops of warm summer rain. Moments before, the air was heavy with the annual summer humidity that thickly blankets Manhattan. But now the air gently lifts off our skin. A cool whip of wind nudges us north as the temperature drops, the sun’s light diminishing against the reflective glass of One World Trade as gray clouds roll over the blue sky.
We cross the path of where my partner’s father ran out of Chase bank that sunny September day, white clouds of ash coating his body as he made his way across the Brooklyn Bridge, wondering what had happened and what it meant for all of us.
In the wake of the largest modern mass shooting in America, in which 49 of our own were killed and dozens more injured early Sunday morning at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, our country is asking similar questions now, divided along ideological lines as we run towards an answer. With the national debate regarding transgender bathrooms blazing apart every newsfeed just weeks before, I wonder now if there would be those who would capitalize on the fear of terrorism to surpass their fear of homophobia. I wonder if that fear will dissolve us further away from unity.
My partner and I run past the empty holes where the burning metal and bodies and lives and a nation collapsed into an ideological warfare on September 11th. My feet trample over themselves, skidding against the ground, jarring my mind back into the reality that terrorism brings to our lives. Terrorism caused by homophobia. Terrorism caused by extremists. Terrorism caused by racism. Terrorism caused by mental illnesses. Terrorism consisting of fatal acts by those who were able to get past background checks and purchase a gun.
The fall of our economy is now a few blocks at our backs but the continuation of our nation’s drastically divided ideology still looms in front of us. We cross the highway and our feet hit the pavement of the West Side Highway, snapping us back into a continuous rhythm our bodies take comfort in. I hear my partner pant as his lungs adapt to the quickness of our pace. My mind fills with pain knowing so many other lovers and loved ones will never hear the breath of their beloveds again.
The sky grows dimmer as we make our way into Chelsea. The cascade of brick stone houses and high green trees make the otherwise bustling neighborhood at once intimate and picturesque. Our bodies settle into the quaintness of our surroundings, each stride growing more confident and lively as we churn down the blocks.
We pass the Christopher Street stop. Against the backdrop of rainbow flags we see the black, semiautomatic weapons clasped firmly between the hands of the armored police officers aligning the entrance of the subway. Fear splits through my body. My eyes lock onto the gun. An officer smiles at me reassuringly as a crowd of people swarm up from the subway and enter the sidewalk. Fear is replaced with irony: the NYPD officers who are protecting the lives of the LGBTQA members attending the gathering tonight were once sent to raid the Stonewall Inn years before, leading to an uprising that would be the catalyst of the gay pride movement in Greenwich Village. Things can change. I remind myself. People can change, for the better.
Our stride becomes disrupted and the rhythm is lost. Our legs move horizontally, scattered across the pavement, finding gaps and holes and opportunities to fly between the bodies that turn abstractly in the streets. A red traffic light jars our stride.
“Where do we go from here?” I ask my partner, disoriented yet grateful for the pause.
“Follow the flags.” He responds, pointing down the block, towards the east.
Hudson gives way to Bleeker. Bleeker to 7th. Before us are hundreds of people, standing in front of StoneWall Inn. Power suits gather with solemnity. Tennis shoes appear beneath pencil skirts. Students weary after their summer day jobs meet familiar faces in the crowd. Posters hang in the arms of demonstrators. A rallying cry bursts from the lungs of an activist. Children sit calmly atop the shoulders of parents as cops from the tops of buildings look downwards on the crowd, their semiautomatic weapons in hand. A woman in hijab walks past me, quietly.
Near strangers, we stand at a distance. Minutes pass. Hundreds turn to thousands. Gradually as more bodies come to gather in front of this place, we move closer and closer together.
A woman in the crowd begins to say their names. 49 names. We say them with her.
We sing. We listen. We stand together. We find an answer to the questions that brought us to the Stonewall Inn: we find each other.
Click on the links below to learn how you can donate to the victims families and the Orlando community.
National Compassion Fund: money will be equally distributed amongst the families for their long-term needs
Equality Florida: nonprofit LGBT civil rights organization will donate all money to the families of the victims
OneOrlando: focus on strengthening the Orlando community and helping it recover
LaunchGood: the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) will distribute donations directly to the OneOrlando fund