Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse night club, where 50 people were killed. REUTERS/Steve Nesius
Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse night club, where 50 people were killed. REUTERS/Steve Nesius

By Colleen O’Connor

The Orlando shooting that killed at least 50 people conjures up the original nightmare—9/11.

I remember 9/11 differently than most.

I was in a coffee shop near the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. Standing in line, while two women exchanged anxious words. “Isn’t it unbelievable. I just saw it on TV.”

Assuming it was a conversation about some celebrity nonsense, I stayed focused on which pastries to order.

Then, their voices took on a sort of desperation. “I don’t know how I will get out of here. There are no cars and the airport if closed.” Or, at least that is my memory.

No dense fog outside, so, I inquired. “Has something happened?”

I confess that I still cannot comprehend that someone—indeed several someones—hijacked planes full of innocent people—strangers—and deliberately flew them to their deaths by slamming into two tall buildings in New York.

On instinct alone, I ran back to wake my sisters, tell them of the news. They, too, disbelieved. I hustled them to grab their things and get out.

Luckily, we had a car and gas. The long snaking lines around the Hertz, Dollar and Avis rental sites literally exuded panic among those desperate to leave.

Everyone wanted out. No cabs, limos, or buses seemed available. Airports were shut down. Exits closed.

We avoided the Golden Gate Bridge (considered a target) and instead drove speedily south, and inland, while listening to available radio stations. Each delivered almost ranting advice and blame—depending on which part of the state we passed. “This is what American deserves;” “Get your guns ready;” “Shelter in place.” Others simply mumbled, or shuffled papers, in dumb shock or prayer.

Since then, horrific acts of violence, terror, and mass killings have become nearly commonplace—here and abroad. We consider the body count and then we shrug. Change channels and divide.

So, too, I believe will we shrug again after Orlando.

Witness the presidential contenders—now reduced to tweets and hashtags to air their differences.

The exchange goes something like this:

  • Donald Trump claims that if everyone had guns, the damage would not have been so bad. And tweets that he was “right.”
  • Hillary Clinton returns fire by calling for a ban on assault rifles: “These are weapons of war.”
  • Trump to Clinton: “This is a war. Say radical Islamists!”
  • Clinton to Trump: “I am happy to say radical Islamists.”

Pity President Barack Obama, who refuses to say “radical Islamists” and has addressed the nation more than a dozen times on our own homegrown, domestic acts of violence.

Can you even remember these? No? There are too many.

  • Nov. 5, 2009 — Fort Hood shooting
  • Jan. 12, 2011 — Tucson, AZ, shooting
  • July 20, 2012 — Aurora, CO, movie theater shooting
  • Aug. 10, 2013 — Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting
  • Dec. 14, 2012 Newton, CT, school shooting
  • Sept. 16, 2013 — Washington Navy Yard shooting
  • April 2, 2014 — Second Fort Hood shooting
  • April 14, 2014 –Kansas Jewish Community Center shooting
  • June 10, 2014 — Portland, OR, school shooting
  • June 18, 2015 — Charleston church shooting
  • July 16,  2015 — Chattanooga recruiting center shooting
  • Oct 1, 2015 — Roseburg, OR, Umpqua Community College shooting
  • Dec. 3, 2015 — San Bernardino shooting
  • June 12, 2016 — Orlando nightclub shooting

The results of all this frothing and memes among the elites and chattering classes? NOTHING. Still more knee-jerk political division and yet another surge in gun sales.

Thus, the collective shrug. There is no exit. No fresh thinking.

While I still cannot wrap my brain around the barbarity of 9/11—or Orlando—or any other new nightmare crossing our TV screens, social networks or print media, one thing I do understand.

Perhaps, when confronted with the incomprehensible, a considered time of silence is best.

Only then act.

Colleen O’Connor is a retired college history professor.