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United Church of Christ

533 Route 28, Harwich Port, MA 02646 | Phone: 508-432-1668

A Place called Pulse

Pilgrim Congregational Church
Rev. Susan Cartmell
"A Place called Pulse"
June 13, 2016

Another mass shooting. This one was the most violent and deadly. Though it happened in one state on the southeast corner of the country, the ripple effects of this horror have touched us all. Through family connections and friendships, people know folks who were shot. Through news feeds and social media this story has come home to touch us. Through the Latino community or the gay community it hits us with its unspeakable sadness. Through vital faces on the front page we see what it means for lives to be cut short decades before their time. 

When I thought about it I was struck by the name of this club which was the scene of so much violence. The dance club was called Pulse.  It seemed such an irony that this deadliest shooting in our nation’s history took place in a night club named Pulse. A night club with that name evokes the image of a dance floor that rocks with good music. It conjures up the image of a spot where great rhythm inspires people to move as one in synch to the beat. You imagine that when the DJ cranked up the volume the thumpa thumpa sounds transported everyone and the place rocked. On the night of this tragedy there was an especially large crowd because Latin Night brought a crowd for salsa and meringue and went on into the wee hours. The Pulse lived up to its name. 

But from what I know about gay clubs and what I have heard in the news the Pulse meant so much more than a place for great dancing. The Pulse was the place where gay people could come out of the closet and dance with someone special. It was the spot where folks could mingle without looking over their shoulder, or worrying about losing their job, or wondering who knew that they were gay. It was the place in Orlando where you could see yourself affirmed when you looked around the room. For some people it was the one place where you could shed your shame and feel proud of who you were. It was a refuge, a community center, where you could retreat from life’s storms and find new strength for your journey. 

So, this vibrant life-giving community center was quite literally the pulse at the heart of the gay community. People came for more than music. 

So there is something especially diabolical about this shooting. This safe haven was violated.

On Sunday morning when I first heard the news about the shooting, like all gay people I felt a special empathy for the people in that club and everyone in the world-wide gay community. This crime is dramatic but it is different from many others all around the globe and over time only in the degree of its concentrated violence.  At first I could find no words to express my shock. Instead I wanted to reach my wife and hold her, and feel her pulse because I knew it would re-assure me as it always does. Then I reached out for other loved ones. I texted colleagues, and talked to friends and neighbors. Instinctively I needed to feel the touch of their hands, the warmth of their hugs. I needed to connect with the life force in them. I needed to see my own emotional response validated in their various personal expressions of shock and grief.  I needed to connect with the pulse of life in them. 


The fact that this club was named Pulse makes this violation so poignant. But I also appreciate that this club was named Pulse, because the very word Pulse serves to remind us that as long as there is lifeblood in us we need to go on and do everything in our power to affirm the goodness of life.  We all have a pulse and that is not something to be under-estimated. As we heal we need to keep holding each other to remind ourselves of the power of the life force we share. As long as we can reach out and feel the pulse in one another we can decide each day to encourage the best instincts in our community. As long as we have a pulse, we can decide to live each day with compassion. As long as we have a pulse we can stand for the underdog, those in the minority, the people too often targeted for violence. As long as we have a pulse we can resolve to stop this kind of violence. 

Rev. Dr. Susan Cartmell is the newly called pastor of Pilgrim Church in Harwich Port. 

Posted: Tuesday June 28, 2016