Friday, September 7, 2012

Inspiration from Tragedy


Giffords 9-7-12


  Gabrielle Giffords, former member, U.S. House of Representatives

       Image credit: Wikipedia Commons

I know it’s only been a couple of weeks ago that I told you how rarely I talk politics, and then went ahead and did it anyway.  And now, I’m leading off with a picture of a politician.  But, not to worry.  Though this post is about a former member of Congress, this really isn’t about politics.  Promise.

Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords was, as near as I can determine, a hard working, determined, respected member of Congress since 2007, and before that, displayed those same characteristics in her state legislature.  I didn’t know any of that, though, because the state she served was not my own, but Arizona.  She was serving—as far as I was concerned—in anonymity, along with the other 434 members of the House.

But all of that changed in January of 2011.  In the space of one winter afternoon, as she was addressing constituents in her home state, she leaped to national attention when she was the target of an attempted assassination.  She was shot in the head, leaving her critically wounded.  Sadly, many other people were also shot in the attack, six of them fatally. 

It seems like mass shootings have become almost commonplace lately, but—thankfully—not so much that it fails to stun the country.  We were stunned, and everyone rallied around, hoping and praying for a miracle that the congresswoman would survive.  And the miracle was granted.

Slowly—ever so slowly—Gabby was working through her recovery.  As you might expect with a brain injury, there was significant damage.  She had to learn to walk again, and talk.  She had to learn to write with her opposite hand, due to paralysis on her dominant side.  It was days, weeks, months of therapy.  And it isn’t over yet.

Through all of it, the public got periodic updates, following her progress.  We were happy for her when she was able to leave the hospital long enough to go watch her astronaut husband launch into space for his final mission.  We gave thanks when she was released from the hospital for good, and could at least continue her therapy at home.  We cheered for her when she returned briefly to the floor of Congress to cast an important vote.  And we cried when she determined that she still had too much work to do on her own recovery and resigned her position. 

From the far, far outside looking in, it seems that Gabby has borne this burden with unfailing optimism and grace, and a fierce determination to reclaim her life.  Oh, I’m certain that she’s had moments of despair—who wouldn’t, in the face of all she’s been through?  But it’s the optimistic belief in recovery that we’ve seen time and time again, and that’s allowed us to believe in her, too.

And why do I tell you this story now?  Because tonight, on the biggest stage of her political party, we got to see this brave woman yet again.  At the Democratic National Convention, Congresswoman Giffords walked on stage and led the crowd in saying the Pledge of Allegiance.  She walked slowly, signs of partial paralysis still evident.  Her speech was slow and deliberate, clearly still something of a struggle.  But you know what?  She was smiling.  She was happy to be where she was, accomplishing what she was.  It was really amazing to me.  And, based on the cheers and applause and tears in the convention hall, I wasn’t the only one moved. 

How do you go through being shot in the head, losing your most basic functions, giving up your entire life as you’ve known it, and still end up happy?  I’m guessing it’s a case of recognizing how fragile life is, and learning to be grateful for each and every moment.  It makes sense.  But I have to tell you honestly, I’m not sure I could do it.  I’m inspired by Congresswoman Giffords, and I wish her the very, very best.

Who inspires you, and why?