Monday, June 13, 2016

After Orlando: When Will We See the Face of God in the Face of Our Neighbor?

“If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes…see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces.”         --Frederick Buechner

It’s a cruel irony that in the hours immediately after the largest mass shooting in the history of the United States, we knew more about the shooter, Omar Mateen, than any one of his 49 victims. The image of Mateen’s face showed up on media websites by mid-Sunday morning, less than four hours after his deadly act of terrorism and hate.  By noon we knew his name, faith, marital history, work background and had quotes about him from his father and his ex-wife. It was not until just after 5 pm last Sunday night that the names of the dead began to be released by the city of Orlando.

To be fair, the process of identifying the dead and notifying the next of kin is gruesome and painstaking work. Those charged with this heartbreaking task no doubt did and are doing the very best that they can.  I cannot imagine what it is like to have to make that awful phone call: to a Mom or Dad, wife or husband, son or daughter, to tell them that the one they loved: he, she, is gone forever.  That they went out on a Saturday night with friends for an evening of dancing and celebration and now, they will never come back.

But regardless of the timing, here’s a hard truth to consider. More ink will be spilled, more words will be written; more opinions will be offered and more political posturing will be proclaimed about Mateen in the days ahead, than about any of the innocent women and men that he killed.  Why this propensity to inadvertently lionize the criminal and so often ignore the victims? Why this gruesome fascination with “the radical Muslim”, “the ISIS inspired domestic terrorist”, and “the LGBT hating” Mateen? Why is he the lead on the front page and the evening news, that face of his staring back at us with hatred and anger? 

Because it is just too hard, too sad, too overwhelming, to face the faces of all those lost.  Their oh so young faces: smiling and hopeful, serious and thoughtful. Thank God that finally their portraits are showing up on line and in print. Let’s post those images on Facebook and Twitter, in the New York Times and the Boston Globe.  Let’s speak out loud their individual names in prayers and remembrance.  Let’s face those faces and then skip on by, try and ignore for just awhile, the face of the one who took life itself away from 49 people in the Pulse nightclub last weekend.

For when that shooter opened fire, he did not see the faces of “real” people, or fellow children of God, or human beings. Instead, apparently motivated by a warped and false religious faith and fueled by homophobic rage, he “saw” no one.  How else could he do what he did? Mateen and others of his ilk, symbolize what may be the greatest of human sins, writ large: humanity’s chronic and ancient inability to see “the other” as equally worthy of love, honor and respect. 

When will we finally see the stranger or those folks we can so quickly label “different”, as instead part of our human family: each and every one of us good, precious, and beautiful?  When, O God?  When? When will we let go of our communal need to divide this world by race and faith, by class and ability, by the people we choose to love and the God we choose to worship?  When?
So today I choose to remember the face and the person of Stanley Almodovar III, 23, of Clermont, Florida. Stanley was one of the first named victims.  He grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts and worked as a pharmacy technician. He lived with his Mom, Rosalie Ramos, who said she expected her son to come home from the club that night hungry, so she left some of his favorite food for him in the refrigerator. Stanley was studying to be a pharmacist. His Aunt Yoly said he was, “an amazing person with a good soul.”  He would have celebrated his 24th birthday later this month.

May our God of love bless us with the vision to see in each and every person whom we encounter, a real person. A neighbor. A fellow inhabitant in this beautiful and broken world that we all call home.  May God bless Stanley. May God bless the dead and injured and their loved ones. 

Remember them. Remember their faces.


  1. Thank you for writing this. It's such a heartbreaking time, and I'm glad to know about Stanley.