I woke up Sunday at 7 AM. My first thought when I opened my eyes was, "I wonder if Phil Kessel will lift the Cup tonight?" Then I pulled up twitter on my phone and saw someone's puzzling tweet.
The words were, "I can't believe what happened in Orlando."
"What?" I thought sleepily.
Two tweets later, the news hit. With growing shock, I realized that the site of the largest mass-murder by an individual in US history was a ten minute drive from my house -- and that we not only knew people who might have been there, but one of the club employees was a close family friend.
My first text was sent at 7:05, the kind of text that I never want to send again. "Are you alive?"
The response had me staring at the ceiling. It was a simple, "Yes," but my feeling of relief that he was alive mingled with my realization that so many other people's friends were not. Relief. Horror. Inability to handle the enormity of it.
For those of you who follow the Solar Bears, you can see how small Orlando truly is. The club, Pulse, is about two miles from Amway Center -- a short drive down the street.
Yesterday, amid the growing shock as more and more people were reported dead and details emerged, my own community came together.
I texted more friends at 8 AM, after coffee had kicked my mind awake, and I'd thought through every single friend I had in town who might've been out at the club. For one couple, it was, "Checking in to make sure you two are okay."
And the response was immediate. "Yes we are. Thank you for checking. We're on our way to donate blood."
Friend after friend responded the same. "We're donating blood."
Soon, the lines at the donation centers were so long that people were turned away. The couple I texted waited two hours just to put their names on a list -- they'll be called today.
Amid all of this, our friend the Pulse custodian came to our house. He brought his children, and stumbled through the door to sit in our living room. My daughter took his kids away to play, and we sat beside him, listening to his story.
"I got a call from the club owner as I was finishing up at my other job. She said -- not to come in. If I'd finished my other location sooner, I would've been there."
He talked about his friends who were lost. One was a bouncer, a woman. He wasn't sure when he'd speak to the owner again -- or what the future of the club was, or his job, or who was still alive.
Thinking back, it was strange how calm it all was. I remember thinking his eyes looked red, but the tears never spilled over. We are all still suffering shock, and in a community this size, it's hard to know how we'll recover.
The honest truth is that nobody has the emotional capacity to handle mass murder.
Throughout the day, social media kept us updated. Facebook prompted me to check in as "safe," a feature that I found both useful and heartbreaking. Joy to see friends check in as "safe," one after the other. Worry about the ones who did not. Anguish as the list of victims came out.
It was Latin night at the club. The gay community was not the only one decimated.
And members of the Solar Bears, past and present, weighed in too.
Our hearts are with those affected by the tragedy of this morning in our City Beautiful. pic.twitter.com/yNSKwv4izZ— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) 12 June 2016
Condolences to everyone affected by the shooting. A national travesty. I know the city of Orlando and the people will only return stronger.— Eric Baier (@ericJbaier) 12 June 2016
I'd like to extend my deepest condolences to all the families of the victims in the night club shooting downtown Orlando last night.— Scott Tanski (@S_Tanski) 12 June 2016
My heart breaks for the city of Orlando, the victims & their loved ones, who are forever impacted by this cowardly act of domestic terrorism— Garret Sparks (@GSparks40) 12 June 2016
Orlando was my home. It is a peaceful, beautiful & tolerant city. There is no excuse for this to happen. America has a gun problem #WakeUp— Garret Sparks (@GSparks40) 12 June 2016
Today, I woke up thinking about the future. Here in Orlando, I know what to do. I will continue to support survivors of this mass murder and encourage people to donate blood. I will also work hard to further tolerance and love, and support for mental health initiatives.
But what can you do to help further love and tolerance in the face of hatred and fear?
First, you can donate directly to the families of those impacted.
Support victims of the Pulse shooting
And second, Orlando's Pride parade was -- in a horrific and intentional coincidence -- this past weekend.
McNally25, a gay Leafs fan, recently wrote about how vitally important it is for him to feel recognized and included in the fanbase, not only by fellow Leafs fans, but by the organization itself. He wrote:
Last year, Kyle Dubas was there for the Leafs. That was exciting, because, as a gay hockey fan, I love knowing that the assistant GM of my team acknowledges that LGBT fans exist, and that our issues are real, and that he’s willing to take a walk down Yonge Street facing water guns and glitter because of this. I don’t remember any players showing up last year (although maybe some Toronto Furies did) but Troy Bodie was definitely there the year before. Classic. I thought for about a day that Morgan Rielly might make an appearance, but no luck. Still, I did get a tiny little thrill when I saw him tweet about what was going on that weekend in Toronto, and include Pride.
I am asking you -- fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Marlies, and Solar Bears: will you go to the parade?
And please, Maple Leafs Organization: will you attend the parade too?
I would love to see players there. I would love to see the front office there. I would love to see a show of support for the gay community that is so strong it will raise awareness, acceptance, and tolerance to outshine the darkness of this crime.
With love from Orlando.