I’ve had the privilege of visiting Orlando, Florida, countless times during my life. I literally don’t remember how many trips to Disney I’ve taken or how many stops at Chick-fl-a I’ve gone through (there’s so many Chick-fl-a’s in Orlando—which is a good thing). I’d visited the city on a regular basis and loved it dearly.
But the tragedy that struck on June 12, 2016, the Muslim terrorist shooting at the Pulse bar for homosexuals, quickly destroyed whatever idyllic aura surrounded the area. When I visited Orlando only days after the attack, I was almost convinced that I had stepped into another world. It was gloomy, dark, even scary. The reason was never stated verbally, but it was written on the rainbow flags adorning every corner and the despairing faces of the citizens. To think that one day, instead of celebrating God’s promises with rainbows, people would use them as mourning garments! I was not angry, but the irony was such a melancholy and painful one.
This had been the terrorist attack that was closest to me at the time, and for a while I thought I should write about it when I had the time. This poem I’ve pulled out from the recesses of my many drafts is the result. Its metaphor circles around an orange tree (a common connotation for Orlando); its lesson around the Bible. But my point is not to condemn the Muslims or those killed in the bar; all parties involved were humans created by God and thus were equal to me. Rather, I endeavor here, through a fanciful story, to entertain you and elucidate the true meaning behind all the deception that accompanies such tragedies. Here is my understanding of the matter.
On the Orange Blossoms Too Soon Pick’d
Forlorn and desperate, hearts bitterly struck
Just a few years past had made so cold—
Here on this earth—could these blossoms near-sweet
So soon turn as ash by murder bold?
There—just beyond the bubble of mirth,
Not a mile past Cinderella’s castle gates,
Not far from my window, whereon I look,
The branches had conspired, and had kill’d like members of itself—
Bitter vengeance in the hands of the wrong.
It was a summer night, fabled from immemorial time,
When I looked upon that wonder.
There lay a branch, nearly in a passion of youth,
Though its leaves and blossoms were crippled.
Each flower, it seemed, knew not, of the tragedy soon to strike—
Why grieve when we can laugh?—
Yet of all the blooms on humanity’s tree,
Theirs seemed to flutter most,
In the wind and in happy deception.
But, oh!—who in his good frame
Could conceive the torment soon to arrive?
Who could rightly fathom the depths
Of vicious, undeservéd hate?
For behold, yonder flower,
Looking blacker than those of frivolity,
Appearing to act on itself, yet,
Bearing the approval of many,
Did grievously slay its own brother branch,
Consuming it into its own—
And then, as if the crime
Had infuriated the heavens,
Before I had time to lament,
An electric bolt raged from the sky,
And wounded the already-suffering tree.
My soul, too, felt like those flowers
Who were beaten, unjustly taken from the world—
Was this a whim of nature, that she should come,
And shew this mysterious convicting sign to me?
What of this tree, what of its fruit
What of the shooting that followed suit—
Was it no more than accident?
I shuddered at the thought.
I could not conceive it, yet I tried
So long, tho’ so faithlessly.
In trying, though, I never stopped—
Till a voice ceaseless prick’d at my conscience,
Shock’d it, and said, “Though murder foul
Has no place in perfect earth,
You nonetheless do the very same
When hate overwhelms your capabilities of love.”
I turned round, but none was there—
It seem’d more as an echo from some page I had read,
Is not hate murder? What saith the Lord?
“Vengeance is Mine; I will repay?”
Does that not leave the sorry soul stricken, near-broken
At our oft-neglected, nay, oft-ignored
Christian equality with all the human race?
I sat thus with a heart-ache, my “wit diseased,”
The voice touching me where I never wanted to be touched,
“I know this lesson,” I said, “but what?
“How can this sign, this vision, this dream
“Reveal to me the meaning of this loss?
“What was the lightning that puls’d through the tree?
“What were the two branches—or what is me?”
An answer didn’t come right away.
I’d sat by the window for who knows how long—
Minutes, hours, days, nights—
I never look to nature for advice,
But this seem’d unnatural, as if it were meant
To occur whilst I was able to see it.
Then, lo! it came upon me,
As I thought of the Bible’s word,
Tho’ it was not an audible voice from God,
It was one of the best I’d ever heard—
“This scene is no surprise to Me,
Though I deeply grieve.
Fallen human can never itself mend
What itself did break in Eden.”
The frivolous flowers, then,
Were those killed in the massacre,
Shot in the midst of passion,
Dead before hope could occur,
And those who killed them were the ones
Who life unjustly took from the desperate souls.
The window is the separation
We so often build between us and tragedy,
And the bolt of lightning the hellish judgment to come.
And I—oh, I—
I deserve the same.
What cause have I to shift the blame?
Our hate is nothing less than our murder.
Are we not all the sons of Adam?
Who says I have not sinn’d as did all the flowers?
No, no one.
Meanwhile the tree has groaned on its roots.
It cannot live much longer.
It waits, it waits, in labor pains,
Waiting for heaven’s triumph, peace, and love.
“You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.”
Leviticus 19:18 NASB
August 4, 2018