I was driving a car to Orlando on Sunday when I heard the news that chilled me to the bone. 20 killed in Orlando at a nightclub shooting. And as I listened to more reports come in, the death toll shot up to 50 and 52 more were wounded. What in the world could have caused such a horrible thing to occur?
When I arrived in Orlando, there was a somber tone everywhere I went. It seemed as if every conversation I heard in public was all about the shooting. I felt somehow connected to the community and was feeling their pain. But I also saw long lines of people waiting to give their blood, and others coming to provide water, snacks and Gatorade to those in the hot sun. I was deeply moved and very impressed by the sense of humanity, of helping others.
On Monday morning when I delivered the car, I had to call an Uber to get me to the Amtrak station so I could get to my next pick up in the Miami area. The Uber driver's name was Manuel, and from the moment I got into his Chrysler I could sense his grief spilling out by the bucket full.
"Can you believe it?" he asked me with a thick accent.
"No I can't," I said.
"Do you know what I'm talking about?"
"It wasn't a shooting, it was a massacre! 50 people were killed, and one of them was a good friend of my cousin. Why? Tell me why?"
"I don't know, it makes no sense."
"Hate, too much hate in the world."
"Yes," I said quietly.
"My son was gay, he told me he was gay but I was too proud to accept it. I rejected him. Can you believe that?"
I shook my head. "Have you spoken to him since?"
"No, but I wish I could. I want to tell him I was wrong. I want him to know that I love him, that I accept him no matter what. I want him to know that God made him special, and he is my son, and I will love him always no matter what."
I paused for a moment. "You should tell him that."
Manuel began to cry a little, trying very hard to hold back the tears. "I can't do that. He died one year ago, a hate crime took his life. This massacre has brought that back home to me, and I hope that today every gay man and woman knows that their parents love them very much and accept them. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"I'm not an Obama fan, but when he spoke about this he sounded very Presidential. Like he was mad and he wanted answers."
I nodded. "I think everyone wants answers."
"Why did this maniac's Muslim beliefs lead him to violence? Why did he want to kill gay men? Why did he want to kill Latinos? Can you please explain that to me?"
"Who can, though? I need an explanation." He turned and looked directly at me in the backseat, and I could see his eyes were wet and very red. My heart went out to this man, but I wasn't sure exactly what to say.
"Do you believe in God, Manuel?"
"Yes of course."
"I think at times like this we really have to lean on our faith and pray hard for answers and peace of mind."
"This is really testing my faith. I lost my son, do you get that?"
"And he died thinking that I didn't love him enough to respect his decision. Understand me?"
"Why is there so much hate in the world?"
"I wish I knew. But I have a plan, I try to do something nice for someone every single day. Even if it's a total stranger, just one act of random kindness. I believe if every person in the world could do this, inch by inch this could become a better place."
Manuel was quiet for a moment, then looked at me in the rear view mirror. "50 people died."
"My son is dead. How many other parents are grieving the loss of their child today also?" He pulled up in front of the Amtrak station.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out $5 to give him as a tip. "God bless you, Manuel."
He waved away my offer of cash. "Thank you, but I would rather you save your money and give me another kind of tip. Can you please pray for all of the people who were shot and killed, and for all their families?"
I patted him on the shoulder. "I already have been, and will continue to." I climbed out of the car, but the memory of his words stay with me. Too much hate in the world. Hatred towards others because of their ethnicity or sexual identity. That's all plenty bad enough, but senseless killing and bloodshed? Why? I am praying for a better world where we can love each other and support each person's right to live their life the way they choose. I love gays, blacks, hispanics, Asians, the entire rainbow of diversity. Because God made us all and I believe He wants us all to love and take care of each other.