We must hold fast to shared humanity

Published 11:00 pm Tuesday, June 14, 2016

“I don’t even know how I’m alive today.”

That’s what Angel Santiago Jr. told the Associated Press as he shared his harrowing account of hiding in a bathroom stall while a gunman attacked the gay nightclub in Florida where he was socializing with friends early Sunday morning.

He and a dozen others hid in the bathroom while Omar Mateen led a one-man rampage through the club, holding patrons hostage for nearly three hours before being shot to death as police officers stormed the club. Mateen killed 49 men and women, wounding another 50 during the incident.

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This week, as the initial shock wore off, survivors began to share their stories

Santiago recalls dragging himself, unable to walk because of gunshot wounds to the foot and knee, out of a bathroom stall and towards police, who carried him to safety.

Patience Carter, a 20-year-old, is recovering from her gunshot wound, but still trying to cope with the grief of watching a friend die and knowing that another is fighting for life. “The guilt of being alive is heavy,” she wrote in a poem she shared.

And Angel Colon, speaking alongside doctors during a press conference on Tuesday, summed up the feelings of so many fellow survivors: “This person had to be heartless.”

So it seems.

As a nation, we too are trying to understand what could motivate an individual to commit such a hateful and violent act: Was it homophobia? Was it his allegiance to radical Islamism? Was it a mental or emotional disorder? Was he, truly, heartless?

Investigators are exploring all those questions, and hundreds more, as they try to figure out what motivated Mateen, who at one time had been flagged on FBI watch lists for suspected affiliations with terrorists.

The incident, unfortunately, once again threatens to polarize our already divided nation. The presumptive presidential candidates have taken to the stump, with Donald Trump calling for a widespread ban on Muslims entering the United States and Hillary Clinton once again calling for massive changes in gun control laws. Federal agencies are under the microscope, as armchair commentators wonder how they could have let a suspected terrorist slip through their watch lists. And Americans who find solace on both sides of the gay rights cause sadly can find a way to politicize the events.

But the harsh reality is neither a ban on Muslims entering the United States nor tighter gun control laws would have prevented this incident from happening. Mateen is a United States citizen who worked in the security field, with security clearance and access to weapons.

No laws made by man (or woman) can prevent and protect us from the violence of heartlessness. We cannot legislate our way to an insulated and safe society, protected from every possible threat or harm.

But we can turn in faith and to faith. We can pray for compassion and peace, praying to God; to Allah; to Buddah; to the karma of the universe, if that is your belief system. We can act with justice, kindness and compassion towards our fellow man. We can hold fast to our shared humanity, realizing as we do now that what happens at 2 a.m. in an Orlando nightclub or in the middle of the night in a Paris concert hall shatters all of us to the core.

We will rise from the tragedy of the Orlando shootings. We will be wounded and scarred by the tragedy, but we will use those scars to remind us of how precious our life is.

And we will fight back, as we vow to live every day, each moment in a way that protects and nurtures our shared humanity.