Thursday, January 13, 2011

the Giffords Memorial

The other day, when Congresswoman Giffords was shot, I did not have TV or internet. The first information I had came over a status update I read on my smartphone. I immediately felt sick and called a new friend I'd just met who lived down the street. It was about ten AM here and I called him in a panic, "I need to come watch your TV!"

It had just snowed the night before and I was ridiculously scared to drive two blocks to his house, but I did, wearing no shoes and was only lucky to find a jacket in my truck. I ran upstairs and turned on the news while he played facebook and texted friends about work and school.

Months ago, I had been at a Giffords Rally where I met many other state and local politicians. I came away from the rally with a new found sense of political belonging. I felt closer to a government that represented me than ever before, being able to sit and talk to the politicians about issues on a one to one basis...but also seeing moms with strollers, college kids, old men and women...all kinds of people do the was exhilarating!

Tucson is a small big city. Everyone knows's kind of ridiculous, but in a good way. So, when Giffords was shot, I felt like I'd been hurt, personally. I worried that friends I knew were there, I felt like my family had been targeted...and I'm not even a Tucsonian!

The is a very particular zeitgeist in Tucson that is difficult to explain. It is a quiet town, but with a fiesta mentality. The tailgates are fun, and almost family affairs, and while it may not seem like it when you arrive, once you're there, Tucson takes you in. People are there for one another and close to one another. You go to a bar and the bartender knows your name...and go to another bar, and see the old bartender as a patron, and the girl working the door was in your college class or church or yoga group, and will see you next Sunday morning at Congress for Brunch.

The feeling that something precious had been ruined, something bigger than the individuals, including Giffords and those who were killed, was hard to shake. I wasn't there, so I can't say, but from here, I felt oddly violated. Tucson had always felt like normal incarnate--it was almost oppressively so. So that fact this happened there, at a grocery store, just shattered expectations and realities.

When I heard there would be a memorial, I was glad. It would help bring people back together, to overcome what could easily become a sense of doom and an emotional morass. When I heard the President was coming, I was even happier. It seemed as good a time as any to put aside politics and say, "This is who we are, and we will get through this."

My friend Sam was instrumental in organizing and developing the memorial. He designed the logo that would be used on T-shirts, flyers and posters and was, according to his facebook, so happy to feel like he was a part of helping people to overcome the feelings they were having--to help people rebind themselves to their prior sense of normal and help more forward.

When I read articles such as "Conservatives React to Memorial T-Shirts" I don't get angry--it helps me realize that politics isn't as important as reality, and that by viewing reality through the lens of politics, we risk ruining and losing much. This memorial wasn't about conservatives or liberals. It was about bringing this community locally, and the country in general, together and pulling us out of the sense of doom that we could easily slide into. It WAS a pep-rally. It was a wake. It was a recognition that we cannot be made to lose ourselves in pity, but that we must move forward. Gabriel Giffords wants that and it's the only way to keep the hope that she now represents alive.

It was, in my eyes, incredibly successful for what it was, and I'm so proud of Sam and everyone involved in bringing it together. For those who don't understand what it was, I fear they never will, and that can't be helped. But, for those who did and do understand, we learned from it. We grew from it, and together, we'll move forward from this.


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