I began writing this column a few weeks ago while overlooking Times Square from a lone hotel room in the city that never sleeps: New York. A few paragraphs into what’s often called “a sh**ty first draft,” it dawned on me these words would be published on my birthday, July 3, a personal milestone, especially this year.
Gasping at the realization I will wake up Sunday morning and be 65, I rethink my direction and focus, the content for today’s column. A half dozen voices are talking to me at once. All my own. I want this to be upbeat, a triumph of years, but all the while honest and real.
Hours from now I will note my words and scribbles defiantly bleeding off the page, shades of darkness in tone – more gray scale and muted than neon – the color of Broadway.
I’m on deadline; I keep writing.
A USA Today newspaper has been left outside my hotel door, Orlando headlines staring me in the face, the world’s sadness palpable – the Do Not Disturb/Privacy sign utterly useless once I have opened the door. Our nation longs for peace, understanding, tolerance, and love. More lives cut short. Forty-nine to be exact. I cannot stop seeing their faces.
Friends knowing I am in NYC message me a Facebook post of Broadway stars, including Fresno’s own Audra McDonald and many others I’ve seen just a night or two ago. They sing in bittersweet harmony, “What the world needs now is love (sweet love).”
Sipping my coffee, I wonder what’s next, where do we go from here? I jot the Alfie question into my travel journal knowing only a handful of readers will know what I’m talking about. I’m showing my age.
A pull quote in a magazine article reads, “A once-anomalous tragedy has become just another event to prepare for, like the Fourth of July ...”
Mass shootings – commonplace? I want to live in a world where guns are harder to get than “Hamilton” tickets.
I’m suddenly desperate to see family, wrap arms around the grandkids, taste home. Calling my mother, I hear worry in her voice. It doesn’t matter how old I am now (or a week from now) – she wants assurances of my safety and well-being.
Is that too much to ask? Isn’t that what we all yearn for? We exchange I love you whispers before hanging up. This is the new normal – never knowing for sure what tomorrow might bring.
I decide to spend the day alone with time to simply be instead of constantly on the run and doing, the more typical rhythm I’m accustomed to while here. A week ago, I saw “Fiddler on the Roof,” one of my favorite musical theater classics. To quote Tevye, I am “far from the home I love.” And feeling it in a big way.
A slight breeze invites a walk through Central Park. I stop at the John Lennon memorial where tourists have gathered – diverse in size, shape, color, everyone silenced by headline news coming from Orlando.
My ears ring with “Imagine” lyrics. The iconic black and white mosaic, designed to evoke a vision of hope, is covered with flowers and petals, scorched by the sunburn of New York’s June heat wave. I am (also) thirsty and wilted in sorrow.
Walking back to my hotel, a flood of childhood memories come to my rescue. Flashbacks from a distant yesterday offer respite and relief, temporarily soothing my insides.
I recall a time when life was simple and uncomplicated: safe neighborhoods, freedom to talk with strangers, children roaming streets and riding bikes dawn till dark – all of us carefree, optimistic, fearless and oblivious to the sound of gunfire and bullets.
A slivered moon eventually illuminates the New York skyline, a massive rainbow of hope shining from surrounding buildings towering in tribute, paying respect to Orlando victims and families. A few minutes later, I receive a series of texts from Fresno friends – all en route to New York.
The timing of their outreach brings a sense of family and comfort. In the week that follows, we break bread together, renew friendships, and lift glasses. Light candles in the dark. It’s sad but true that we live in a world where beautiful and horrible things exist at the same time.
This morning as I put finishing touches on this column, as I reflect on my own 65 years of living, I borrow from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s passionate sonnet, shared during his acceptance speech at this year’s 2016 Tony Awards:
“Senseless acts of tragedy remind us that nothing here is promised. Not one day. Not one day. Love is love is love is love is love … it cannot be killed or swept away.”
Armen D. Bacon of Fresno is a writer and co-author of “Griefland: An Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss and Unlikely Friendship” and a collection of essays titled “My Name is Armen.” Email: email@example.com; Twitter, @ArmenBacon.