Tuesday, July 19, 2016

FOURTEEN: Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo


Omar, just 20 years old, saw his hopes of becoming an actor and dancer come to a halt in the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub on June 12.  It was barely a year ago that Omar walked across the stage during his graduation from La Vergne High School in his native Tennessee before heading to Orlando to pursue his life-long dream.  Remembered for charisma and complete dedication to his craft, Omar was also proud to be openly gay. His dynamic personality made those around him feel inspired and empowered. To anyone who knew him, there was no doubt he was profoundly talented and going to be famous someday. Unfortunately, that fame came in the form of being slaughtered by an insane radical with an assault rifle. 

One of the particularly admirable traits of people like Omar is their ability to bring people together by treating them with respect and kindness. A look at Omar's fundraising page shows that the customers he served as a barista in a Starbucks in a Target in Orlando mourn the loss of his life alongside his high school classmates. Imagine that, one guy, in a chain coffee shop, in a chain megastore, in a giant city, made a distinct impact, he was able to create a community within a notably sterile corporate macro bubble.

As a final testament to Omar's life,  something incredible happened to his grandmother as she was flying alone to Orlando for his funeral. A flight attendant learned of her recent devastation and passed around a sheet of paper so that other passengers could offer their condolences. One sheet of paper turned into several, and by the time the plane touched down the flight attendant had collected a book of handwritten support for his grieving grandmother. On the way out, each passenger stopped and hugged Omar's grandmother, a uniquely personal gesture in our usually impatient existence.  In other words, a bunch of passengers on a cramped, budget airline, abandoned their usual crabbiness and cattle chute deplaning to console a stranger's heartache. Even in death, Omar brought an unlikely group of people together in one last community.

I tend to be a casual bystander in a lot of the communities I belong to. I'm there, but not present, and sometimes it feels like more of a geography thing than anything else. Today, in honor of Omar, I'm committing to become a more active participant in my communities.  If I join with others working for a common good then we are one pair of hands stronger. Many hands working together has the power to provide the support and strength to build a better world. We're all in this together.

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Friday, July 15, 2016

THIRTEEN: Deonka Deidra Drayton

Deonka Deidra Drayton


Dee Dee, as she was lovingly called by her friends and family, died at the age of 32 in the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub where she worked as a bartender. Dee Dee was raised in Midlands South Carolina and her early life was not without its struggles. As a young child, she suffered a brain injury as the result of a car accident in which she was thrown from the car.  Throughout her teens and early adulthood she struggled with addiction and subsequently had several run-ins with the law. That had all recently changed though, and Dee Dee was in the midst of a personal renaissance. She had turned her life around, she was headed in the right direction before she was so abruptly and permanently removed from her path.

Dee Dee fits the profile of the kind of person our society so readily gives up on: an addict with a rap sheet. There are those who would believe that such attributes automatically make her ineligible for to the sanctity of life, that Dee Dee was a valueless thug. However, despite everything she was up against, Dee Dee just kept going. One day at a time, one foot in front of the other, she was living proof that through love and support no one is beyond rehabilitation. Her absence from our world further illuminates the value of her singular existence. 

Today, in honor of Dee Dee I'm motivating myself to keep moving, whatever my setbacks may be. So often I'm tempted to give up on  - or not even try - things that may seem too hard, telling myself that nobody really cares anyway, that I don't make a difference. Looking at a story like Dee Dee's it's so apparent I am privileged to have only myself as an obstacle. 

I hope others will join me in never, ever, stopping trying to be a better person. With persistence, we will find peace.

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

TWELVE: Mercedez Marisol Flores

Mercedez Marisol Flores


Marisol, as she was known to her family, held a special place in their hearts as not only the baby of her family, but the only girl as well. She was gunned down in the Pulse nightclub shooting alongside her best friend, Amanda Alvear, on June 12, 2016. Known to be profoundly kind, studious and a bit soft-spoken, Marisol lived up to her namesake, Maria de la Soledad, a testimonial the Virgin Mary quietly contemplating the loss of  her son. Marisol grew up in Queens, NY, but moved to Orlando to study Literature at Valencia College where she had a reputation for being profoundly insightful and endlessly friendly.

One of the first ways we tend to deal with tragedy is to relate some part of it to ourselves, if only to grasp the scope of such a thing. In the tsunami of news reports that came in the after-shock of the Orlando Massacre, I immediately saw not only myself, but perhaps my own children in Marisol. It shook me to the core to see my own virtues snuffed out in another person like they meant nothing. I've been meditating on the value of individual life ever since.    

Today, in honor of Marisol, I'm focusing inward, contemplating my own values, morals and privilege and I encourage my friends to do the same. Take a moment, shut up, and just THINK. That's all. Contemplate, give in to what your mind think needs the most attention, map it out, go on a journey, prepare to end up at an unanticipated destination. The only way to figure our way out of this bigotry-filled-ALL-CAPS-chaos-bubble that has encompassed our society is to give it the thought it deserves. 

We are smart enough to get ourselves out of this mess.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

ELEVEN: Amanda Alvear

Amanda Alvear


Amanda Alvear, barely 25 years-old, saw her life cut drastically short in the Pulse nightclub shooting on June 12, 2016. Amanda had recently gained a new lease on life, shedding an incredible 180 pounds through surgery and an intense commitment to fitness. The transformation not only reshaped Amanda's body but her outlook on life. She was in the midst of celebrating the freedom of her twenties, the uninhibited joy of dancing all night in the club with her best friend, feeling safe and accepted for the first time in her life. Amanda had an infectious personality and a keen sense of fashion. She was incredibly close to her family and cared greatly for her young nieces, of whom she loved to spoil with shopping trips for the latest fashions.

Amanda, in so many ways, embodied the modern idea of the "Millennial," a young person, just a kid. Plugged in, just like all her friends, Amanda happened to catch the moment gunfire erupted in the club via SnapChat. What was supposed to be an instantly deleted blip of chatter became Amanda's final recorded moment. Our mortality becomes so much more apparent when we realize we can die at literally any time. The constant possibility that we might be dismissing some moment as trivial before we can realize it is profound is the stuff of existential crisis. Does anyone really have any control?

The only solution, pardon the cliche, is to live each moment as your last. Give the best of yourself to each moment so that when it passes you will know that you couldn't have done it any better.

The only consolation in Amanda's death comes from knowing that she died at peak happiness, her last moment one of unfiltered exuberance, at the successful conclusion of an unexpectedly last battle.

Today, in honor of Amanda, I'm committing to trying to make each moment matter. It's so easy to lose motivation and slip into cycle of learned uselessness, the best way for me to stay out of it is to know for a fact that I don't want to die there. We are all meaningful, our moments are meaningful, we just need to make sure we're living to full potential.

More Information:

49 Days Project


Monday, July 4, 2016

TEN: Antonio Davon Brown

Antonio Davon Brown


Capt. Antonio Davon Brown, a soldier in the U.S. Army, survived two tours in Kuwait before he was gunned down in the surprise attack on American soil on June 12, 2016. Described as a "gentle soul," the decorated veteran was known for his loyalty to his friends, family, and country.  Barely 29 years-old, he held a bright future working in the HR departments of the U.S. Army reserves and Lowes. For him it wasn't just a job - he took the "human" part of "human resources" to heart and was dedicated to truly enhancing the well-being of those he worked with. He will be remembered for his kind spirit and wonderful sense of humor.

It's interesting my last post focused on "celebrity," because when a celebrity dies, the event garners an astonishingly high amount of media attention, everyone is suddenly caught up in the intrinsic value of that particular human life, they certainly don't need me memorializing them on my dinky little blog. It's immensely sad then, every single day soldiers die brutal, horrible deaths defending our liberties and nobody blinks an eye. It's insane that people are willing to line up around the block to honor some star they never met but soldiers who protected their freedom of assembly are laid to rest without a single mourner present. I didn't plan this juxtaposition, but it sure seems to hone in on my point: we cannot forget the specific value each of these lives held before they dissipated forever. 

My bleeding heart constantly struggles with such notions. The price so many soldiers have payed for our liberties is incomprehensible, their lives are just important as mine, and yet I would not have mine if they hadn't gave theirs. 

I can't make sense of any of it, but I do know that we should not take it for granted. We are all so, so fortunate. 

Today, in honor of Capt. Brown, and the birth of our fine nation, I encourage everyone to embrace the liberties so given to us by immense sacrifice. Let's put aside our political differences, take a look around and say "hey, this is all actually pretty good," and know that it came at an ultimate price.