Speak their names.

If you follow the news at all, you’ve probably heard of the terror attack that claimed the lives of 49 people this last weekend. You probably have opinions on what the political response to it should be. Maybe not. That’s fine.

Before you begin making your opinions known to any and all who will listen, do one thing, please. Click here. That link takes you to a list issued by the city of Orlando of the victims’ names and ages. Next, take a deep breath. Then start reading their names aloud.

With every name you speak aloud, you are giving of yourself something that has been taken from the fallen. Every breath we take brings us closer to death. Speaking their names lends the dead one breath more than they possessed in life. It is the giving of your own breath, your time—your life—so that they might, however briefly, however metaphorically, live again.

If you intend to advocate social change in the name of the dead, honor them first with a tithing of your life. Honor them regardless. Unless you are one of the loved ones left behind by their loss, it is likely that these names will not live on in your memory, even if the sense of injustice does.

As I age and witness more of human history unfold before me, I find it easier and easier to withdraw into abstraction. Doing so shields me from grief and fuels my outrage. Outrage has its use. It burns hot, but it does burn out. The sense of injustice remains, shorn of the sense of loss.

Loss is not an abstraction, and positive, lasting change must be built for living, breathing people, not founded on the dead weight of past injustice. Take a deep breath. Speak their names. Then—then—set to work.

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