The things that matter. . .

No words.

That was my stunned reaction when news of the Orlando massacre flashed across my screen.

Not again, and not so soon after last week’s bloody attack in Tel Aviv.

And not so close, for even as I grieve for the victims who were felled by terrorist bullets in Israel, the Sunshine state is ours, our country, our home.

Nothing to say.

The shooting evoked a loop of grisly memories, and words, and ever more words, written over the years of a seeming unending cycle of violence. It sparked a particular recollection of the June 2001 murder of 21 young, carefree teens out for a good time at the Dolphinarium disco on the Tel Aviv beach.  And the defiant words that became their epitaph as we tried to make sense of such senseless killing, of the roiling hatred that can cause someone to strap a bomb on his back or fire a fusillade of bullets at innocent revelers. “We will not stop dancing.” We cannot not, and we must not. That is what matters.

And so, on the morning after the news broke, as police were still taking bloodied bodies out of the Orlando club that had earlier pulsed with music and dancing and life, as family members prayed that they would not be their children or sisters or brothers or friends, we headed out to enjoy a beautiful sunshiny day in New York. We watched as families in matching T shirts lined Fifth Avenue four and five deep for the annual Puerto Rican Day parade. They waved flags and licked ice pops, dragging oversize coolers and lawn chairs and grills into the park to picnic long into the afternoon.

Little ones in strollers, bigger ones in sneakers headed for the playgrounds. Two or three preschoolers scrambled over rocks in what looked like a game of hide and seek. A couple of kids flew by on scooters, heading toward a soccer game on a nearby field.

On towards the Hudson River, the scenes spooled out over and over, families out for the day, couples strolling along the walkways, sprawled on the grass, soaking up the sun.

We catch a glimpse of two muscled guys in cut off T shirts chatting up a table of fresh faced blondes, swinging their hair casually over their shoulders as they keep their eyes demurely down at the come ons.

Further down, grassy mounds are punctuated with striking sculptures. One in particular catches my eye, close to the water, a figure of a hulking man, his head replaced by a full lipped mouth, his chest a square opening in the stone torso with a fluttering material inside that moves in the wind like a beating heart. I come closer to read the inscription, and I stop.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”

The words are those of Martin Luther King Jr., as provocative, and as powerful now as when they were written at the height of the civil rights movement when Reverend King marched, and preached and protested, at the plight of Black America.

Our words, they matter. Especially as racist demagogues foment our basest fears and emotions with hate filled speech and promises of making America great even as their words diminish its promise.

“Stand Loud, Stand Tall” is the name sculptor Aaron Bell gave his work.

It is all we can do.

Speak out.

Write on.

Go on.

It matters.

About the Author
A writer and editor, Vicki has been recognized for excellence by the American Jewish Press Association, Arizona Press Club and Arizona Press Women. Her byline has appeared for more than 30 years in Jewish News of Greater Phoenix and in a variety of other publications. A Wexner Heritage Scholar, she holds masters degrees in communications and religious studies from Arizona State University and a Ph.D in religious studies also from ASU.
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