As I watched coverage of the Orlando shootings this month, it felt very distant to me. I was horrified, yes. I was saddened, absolutely. But the Pulse nightclub and the victims of the shooting almost didn’t seem real to me. It felt like another mass shooting in another city, far away from me and my world.
I hated the detached feeling in my heart and tried to imagine what it would have been like if the shooting happened in my city, picturing a nightclub near my house that I pass all the time. It sits on the corner at an intersection so tight that I hold my breath every time I squeeze between a city bus and oncoming traffic.
That place is real to me. What if the shooting had happened there? Trying to bring it closer to home helped some, but I still couldn’t quite grasp it.
A few days later, I came across a CNN video about the trauma surgeons at Orlando Regional Medical Center, the hospital that’s just down the street from Pulse and the one that took in most of the victims. I paused. I know that trauma center.
Back in October, I interviewed two doctors and one flight nurse from ORMC on behalf of one of FamilyArc’s clients. This client, an Orlando foundation, donated to the trauma center to help purchase new medical equipment, and I got to hear and write stories about the patients and medical professionals who have benefited greatly because of this foundation’s generosity.
It was an odd connection, but suddenly, the shootings didn’t seem so distant anymore. Suddenly I could picture individual people in Orlando. I’ve heard their stories and their passion for serving their community, especially in crisis situations. I remembered the brisk cadence of one doctor’s voice as he showed me photos and X-rays, explaining how their new equipment helps him save patients’ lives. And I imagined that same equipment being used to care for the shooting victims.
In that moment, the whole thing became very real.
Telling stories is what I do, but sometimes I need to be reminded of their power to take a concept and make it breathe. To take a distant tragedy and make it feel right down the street. I can’t relate to Orlando as an entire city. I can’t relate to ORMC as an institution. I can’t relate to the victims as numbers. But I can relate to a person—to an individual with a name and a voice and a story.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper understands this, which is why he gave a tribute to each victim, giving us details about their lives, their personalities, and their impact on other people.
“They were more than a list of names,” Cooper said. “They were people who loved and were loved; they were people with family and friends and dreams.”
And he’s right. It’s important that we hear the stories of the victims. It’s important that we hear the stories of the families, the doctors, and the organizations in the community who are doing something bigger than themselves. We need to keep telling stories, because stories help us see glimmers of hope and goodness and generosity in the midst of confusion and pain. Stories keep us from being callous to the horrors of the world and bring dignity to the victims of tragedy. Stories help us see people and make us all a little bit more human.
So please tell stories. Of someone you’ve lost, of someone heroic, of someone ordinary. Please tell their stories, because I need to hear them.
“After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the things we need most in the world.” –Philip Pullman
Spread the power of stories.