There’s a scene in an episode of the old TV show “West Wing” where Charlie, the president’s personal assistant, is told, “If they’re shooting at you, you must be doing something right.” The man who says this, a computer repairman, is talking about the fact that Charlie, who is African-American, was targeted by a White Supremacist sniper for dating the President’s daughter, who is white. In fact, pretty much everyone in Charlie’s work world is white. Except the computer repairman.
What the repairman wants Charlie to understand is: you are winning. When you are attacked by someone whose sense of self depends on feeling above you, you are rising. When people who define themselves by what they hate assault you for who you love, your love has defined them. This is what I want the people of Orlando and all my gay and lesbian friends to know.
It’s not just darkest before the dawn, it’s coldest then too. History and sacred story alike bear this out. From the Book of Exodus and The Crucifixion to the lynchings of Jim Crow and the Final Solution, the last-ditch effort of a failing oppressor has always been violence. At times like these, it doesn’t just look bleak; it is bleak.
But then the next thing happens. The world turns a little more, the sun rises, and it turns out that we were not going backward after all. The horrors that felt like the dead of night were actually forerunners of the dawn. It is true that far, far too many will have died in the dark and the cold. But in the light of a new day–the very day the shooters feared–we will see that our enemies are fewer and weaker than our friends, that this unity is what the shooters feared even more than they feared you or me alone. It’s why they were shooting in the first place. They feared all of us, together, rising.