Guest post by Nanda Klein
Pulse: The Legacy of the Lights that shall not be dimmed in Our Hearts
Similar to others who have immigrated to the United States, while embracing a new culture, I tend to linger in the influence of my origins. June 12 is the day Brazilians commemorate Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate love, just as in American society.
However, events that took place June 12, 2016, will never be forgotten in my heart. In the early morning hours of that day, many serenely slept in the comfort of their beds while others, too eager to await the dawn’s debut, enjoyed themselves in Orlando, the magical city of enchanted tales.
Nonetheless, the theme park cosmopolitan that attracts tourists from around the world also has ample room for other entertainment, including nightclubs such as Pulse. Until that catastrophic morning in 2016.
Flashes of warm, colored lights combined with the beat of the music creates a perfect invitation to let go of all troubles. In addition, it’s a chance to naturally express one’s soul and leave the concerns of life outside the club's boundaries. Bodies follow soundwaves like no one is watching; a mass of bodies congregating in joy. Just as at many dance clubs, Pulse provided
guests an alluring venture after nightfall. A popular gay nightspot that, on June 11, advertised Latin night via social media.
As I went to sleep, my mind took me on a journey, dreaming of a fanciful voyage. Shortly after 2 a.m., an incomprehensible act that represents everything that goes against love occurred.
When I woke up Sunday morning, my body suddenly became paralyzed as my mind, in a state of shock and nearly unable to process any information my ears were fed, tried to make sense of the images on TV. My eyes froze; my lips parted by my mouth gaping in horror. The words I heard weighed heavily in my heart. While I dreamt, I realized, other beings were living a true nightmare. My heart overflowed with sorrow and pounded vigorously, almost as if it was blocking my airway from completely taking in the air that seemed to lie heavily in my lungs.
Tragically, the sun never rose for some of those simply celebrating life or attempting to loosen themselves from life’s unrest at Pulse. I felt sick; nausea was quickly followed by my mouth suddenly filling with saliva. I knew I needed to sit down.
The more I thought about it, the hazier the colors of my sight became. At first, I was unsure if the dark grayish colors were a warning sign that my blood pressure was dropping, but once I opened my eyes and saw the sun’s rays through the window, it became evident that the cold colors were, in fact, created by a thunderstorm in my soul.
Disheartened, I half sat, half laid on the couch a few feet from the wide screen still displaying the discomforting images. I promptly recalled the day I learned about the deadly shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007; I was browsing through my host parent’s computer less than two months after I had arrived in the United States. My iced expression nearly the same. Not again! I refused to believe. As a consequence of a vicious act at the nightclub, 49 lives were taken. Each person had a name, a story to be told, and a life ahead of them.
In the hours that followed on that tragic Sunday, I continuously tried to find the path back to normalcy—a mindset focused on all the strength I have been able to acquire through life experiences; a peaceful place to set my heart.
At the same time, I felt discouraged and hopeless for humankind. It was such a tragic event for all—victims and survivors alike. While it was not possible to revive the departed ones, it was necessary to keep in mind the challenges ahead for the ones who survived the tragedy.
Although they would not be able to erase the agony or ever be the same again, they still might have the opportunity to rebuild and reinvent who they were before it all happened.
A resilient spirit could allow them to acquire a higher sense of self-knowledge, as well as to build an improved and stronger version of themselves. Also, realizing the level of strength within—often unnoticed unless something devastating occurs—could present them new, unfamiliar but empowering tools to fight for what they believe in, instead of surrendering to fear or hatred.
Despite never living through such a traumatic experience, I was left with plenty to reflect on.
As I embarked on a mission to finally be in touch with the strong and positive person I had become, my mind traveled to my past as a way to regain my dynamic mindset. My first assertion, however, didn’t appear as positive as I'd hoped for: Unfortunately, we live in an era ruled by astonishing impatience. Moreover, the degree of intolerance and hatred reign even among people who are, in theory, alike. Nowadays, practically anything can start an argument.
No thanks to the egotistic virtual era in which we live in, individuals learn that they can voice their opinions in whatever manner they desire. Overtaken by a disregard for others, they know that in most cases, there are no consequences.
As a Miami resident I have become accustomed to the sense of indifference in society as well as the disorderliness. As a Brazilian, I had trouble adjusting to Florida after living in Kentucky, where everything is organized and people tend to be extremely well mannered and cordial to one another.
Nonetheless, in all honesty, I would rather live in a semi-chaotic place where I am allowed to be myself, rather than where everything works in a systematic manner but I am underestimated because of being a foreigner and that, in being American-born, others are entitled to treat me unkindly.
A clear example is when, after spending a semester in Brazil followed by a couple of days back in the United States, I was almost put on a plane and sent back; my fiancé was overwhelmed with guilt for choosing to marry a “foreigner.”
Since many of his relatives didn’t seem to approve of us, he felt like he was doing something wrong. As a good person, he didn’t want to cause any trouble. Nonetheless, he eventually came to his senses and realized that the only wrong being perpetuated was by the ones who couldn't accept me because I wasn’t born an American.
Honestly, their lack of acceptance wasn’t what bothered me, it was their judgment based solely on their own views without making an attempt to get to know me. They never asked why I had chosen the United States as a destination for my exchange program, which is how I ended up here in first place. Their conduct made more of a statement about who they were rather than who I was.
By then, I was already used to rejection. Since childhood, I was proficient in tasting sour disproval and bullying because, as other kids put it, I was F-A-T. Instead of feeling tormented, by the time I was in second grade, I had already created a natural intrinsic need to observe, analyze, and understand human behavior.
Over time, I concluded that individuals who have the need to make others feel less than do so because it makes them feel better about themselves. That being said, to be tagged unworthy of other kid’s friendship because of my physical appearance made me realize that their rejecting me gave them substantial empowerment; a sense of superiority.
That, however, didn’t stop me from trying to make friends. I watched them walk away from me while grabbing tasty treats from my lunch box and savoring them, bite after bite. As the distance between us grew, a sense of peace in me grew simply knowing that they were the ones who didn’t deserve my friendship.
Acting as if I wasn’t good enough based on my looks showed me that they were shallow—a quality I didn’t seek in anyone I wanted to call a friend. Considering that, instead of hate I chose to become strong. I got used to being alone and spending time with myself. I also learned to accept and love myself regardless of my flaws and what others thought or said about me.
In adulthood, after less than twenty-four hours of marriage, we were told by my new husband’s relative to get a divorce. Unlike my childhood when I had the option to pick people I wanted to surround myself with, now, I had no choice. I was dealing with a new branch of my family.
I had to constantly remind myself to not let it bother me, but at the same time, if my accent and un-American-ness were reasons to be mocked by a few individuals who, interestingly, were not bilingual, then the fate of their ignorance could only rest on their own shoulders. I most certainly wouldn't let it weigh on mine.
Over and over again, I rejected the idea of hate. A certain individual’s manners reminded me of the kids in my past; they treated me cordially in front of others, but when no one was watching, their imagined sense of superiority surfaced. However, I knew that just as in children, such behavior was merely a product of their inability to learn how to deal with their own internal troubles.
Besides, the lack of contentment creates a necessity to focus attention on others, sparing themselves from looking within and fixing issues they are too weak to face. Consequently, focusing attention on others is a perfect escape.
Nevertheless, acceptance starts within. Despite being aware that I am a flawed individual just like everyone else, no matter how many may dislike me, I refuse to waste my time and energy focusing on people who truly do not deserve my attention or don’t add anything constructive to my life.
I am a true believer in constructive criticism. Nevertheless, I pay no attention to the detrimental kind. It’s like someone who has collected a great amount of garbage over time. Unsure of what to do with it, they drive a truck around town attempting to dump it anywhere they possibly can. As the manager of my own trash can, it is my decision to accept or decline someone else's waste.
At all, I am a firm believer that God truly knows everyone’s heart and I presume that's all that
matters. I also reckon when certain individuals wish to cause harm to others for whatever reason, reality, along with life itself, somehow finds a way to appear to them.
For instance, there is a person who, along with his spouse, used to take pleasure in devaluing me because unlike them, I wasn’t born in the United States. Ironically, after an incident that caused him to chop off a part of his body, the competent surgeon who was able to successfully repair him had a Latin name.
In my view, if such an experience does not become a teachable moment, I’m not sure what would. What I am certain of, however, is that even after undergoing such a mishap, I received a call from this same person who shouted at me that I should go back to where I came from followed by the “b” word. Then silence; he hung up. While I desired to inform him that, as a naturalized American citizen, it was my decision as far as where I would live, I stated my sentence to the more pleasurable, peaceful and unresponsive dead line before resting my phone on the nightstand and going back to whatever I was doing.
Despite my good spirits when dealing with the caustic individual, such uncultured mentality is a clear example of the fact that ignorance, as opposed to stupidity, is a choice.
A New Chapter
Nevertheless, after experiencing a temporary move to California, my husband and I came to the realization that this country is packed with incredible people and had many other places to live; cities capable of offering us the opportunity to raise our child surrounded by accepting mindsets.
Although we were able to start a new chapter of our lives in Miami, hatred is found everywhere. Unlike moving to a new place, when it comes to being ourselves, there’s no escape. When detesting others is even greater than self-love and the sense of self-preservation, that atrocious mentality leads to vile acts. If the simple idea of physically harming others in any manner is startling, the level of viciousness in mass shootings is incomprehensible to me. It is simply beyond my intellectual capabilities.
Let’s however, not deceive ourselves. Some will never be able to acknowledge that under our skin, the same color of blood flows, such as the perpetrators of human atrocities like slavery and Nazism, not to mention terrorist attacks and mass shootings. These heinous crimes leave us, the progeny of our ancestors, responsible to improve the standards of our society to protect all lives and to prevent history from repeating itself.
I feel terribly sorry for all of those affected by what happened at Pulse. I reached the final stages on my quest for wisdom with a couple of modest conclusions: I shall never give up hope. Refuse to surrender to the wicked. Don’t change who you are to please others. If some choose to waste their time hating, respond with indifference, by living your life and seeking joy and happiness for the sake of your own mind and soul. And never stop progressing!
Just as I believe happiness starts within, change is something that comes from the heart. While we don’t have control over how others feel or behave, we certainly manage our own lives and
mindset. Consider that for each bad deed there is plenty more good, along the lines of those who sought to renovate the world by fighting slavery and the Nazis.
Regardless of how many cruel people we have encountered along our paths individually, the ones who matter are the ones who truly care and make us believe in better days; to have hope in life and humanity.
While there is certainly plenty of evil in this world, the amount of good undoubtedly transcends it. Each one of us still can do our part to unite in love and respect, starting by understanding that it is not necessary to agree with someone’s opinions or way of life to respect them.
Moreover, do not ever believe you are less valuable or that God doesn’t love you as much. What happened June 12, 2016 wasn’t about who the victims were, but the one who chose to live in darkness.
Don’t allow yourself to waste any time hating. Such degrading feelings cause the most harm in ourselves. Instead, continue to wake up every single day with the goal of finding joy in every moment lived, while allowing time to reflect and to learn from difficult times.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned along my personal journey, it is when it comes to life’s challenges, it is more about how I choose to face such adversities rather than how frightful they might seem.
In my opinion, it’s a matter of determining who I will become instead of allowing myself to be a recipient of whatever happens or is done to me. I could turn out to be a bitter and a downhearted individual. Or, I could make the decision to grow from it despite how profound the pain inflicted in me might have been. I simply refuse to allow circumstances to convert me into a mere spectator of my own life.
"It is vital to learn to seek light and combat darkness. "
There’s no way to change the past; the pain, anger, and unbearable feelings of having your hands tied need to be settled to survive in a world where, inevitably, there will be hurt. It is vital to learn to seek light and combat darkness.
While the lives that were unfairly lost can't be recovered and they might no longer be physically among us, their memories and existence in the minds of their loved ones shall remain their legacy, they are very much alive with every single heartbeat of the ones who miss them the most.
Every time their smile comes to mind, love will prevail. They will never be forgotten. There’s no place for darkness where the light continues to shine.
A life can be prevented from continuing, but not from once existing. Don’t ever allow anyone to dim the powerful light that eternally rests in you.