“What is this?"

Sometimes, kids ask difficult questions.  For example: A couple of years ago, on a regular Tuesday afternoon, I had picked the kids up from school and we were driving home when my daughter casually asked, “How are babies made?”

Whoa.  Hands at 10 and 2, Mama. Deep breath.  Buckle up.

That’s what we’re here for, as the adults.  We’re the ones to ask the difficult questions.  We’re the ones who are supposed to have the answers.  But sometimes, the answers aren't easy.

“What is this?” my eight-year-old daughter asked me, yesterday morning.  She was holding up a candle, a simple white candle pushed through the bottom of a white paper cup. 

I was given the candle at a vigil I attended Monday evening for the 49 people killed in the Orlando nightclub shooting.  The vigil was sad but beautiful.  Hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, crying eyes to shoulder, we filled our city’s market square.  Nearly a thousand of us, someone has estimated.  We signed our names in a book of condolences.  We sang John Lennon's Imagine.  We observed a minute of silence.  Small acts of solidarity, but important ones.  


A young girl handed out little hearts her mom had crocheted.  She had given away over a hundred of them, her mom told me.  

Chalk hearts on the pavement, 49 of them, encircled the names of those lost.  I walked the path alongside them, read the names and ages, repeated them quietly in my head.  Anthony Luis Laureanodisla.  25 years old.  Javier Jorge-Reyes.  40 years old.  Akyra Monet Murray.  18 years old.  Far too many hearts, far too young.  I wished them peace.

“What is this?”  How do you answer a question like that?

I tried my best to explain the inexplicable. 

That 49 people had been killed at a dance party.  49 people who had family and friends and dreams for their lives.

That there are people in the world who think that men shouldn't love men and women shouldn't love women.  That those people who think that are wrong.  Love is love. 

That even though we didn't know those 49 people personally, there are many of us around the world who are grieving and gathering together.  That you don't need to know someone to love them.

I hesitated to tell them where this happened because although we need to say the word, we need to shout it, us grown ups who have to find the answers, to my little girls "Orlando" is the home of Disney World, the pinnacle of all things joyful.  I want them to know about what happened but I don't want them to be afraid.  Of that place, of anything.

"I like you, Mama," my five-year-old daughter said.  "Are you going to be killed?" 

Deep breath. 

"No, baby."   I assured her that we are safe, hoping this would be a self-fulfilling prophecy.


A few words before the school bus came.  A few insufficient words, but the conversation has begun.  It will continue, as long as it has to.  Which I hope is not long.  I hope that soon there is no need for conversations like this one.

These white candles come in packages that say they are for emergency use. They’re meant for times when the unexpected happens and the lights go out. This time we’ve come to now, this qualifies. This is an emergency. The lights have gone out and we must now sound the alarms and set things right, and shine the light.

“Can we keep it?”  My children know by now that their mother’s default position is to recycle, donate and otherwise get rid of anything not chained down around here.  

Yes, we will keep the vigil candle.  But only as a memento, I hope.  I hope that we never face this kind of emergency again.  I hope this candle gathers dust.  

I hope that one day my grandchildren pull this bizarre contraption - this antique, this relic - out of a box of their grandmother's strange keepsakes and ask, confused:

 “What is this?”


Please view Anderson Cooper's tribute to the 49 beautiful people we lost too soon.  I will list their names here, but as he says, "They are more than a list of names. They are people who loved and who were loved."

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old

Amanda Alvear, 25 years old

Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old

Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old

Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old

Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old

Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old

Cory James Connell, 21 years old

Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old

Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old

Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old

Frank Hernandez, 27 years old

Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old

Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old

Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old

Kimberly Morris, 37 years old

Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old

Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old

Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old

Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old

Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old

Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old

Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old

(Source: City of Orlando website)