The first time I met Gabby was at a Congressional fundraiser at Cheuvront Wine Bar. John and I were in a side room packed with about 100 people. A friend introduced us to Gabby, who flashed her bright smile and said “Hello!” She approached us so warmly I wondered if I might have met her before. But as she spoke, I realized it was just her personality—she’s one of those friendly people to whom no one is a stranger. She talked with John about solar technology. She talked with me about life in Washington versus Tucson. John asked her a question about NASA funding. And when an aide pulled her away I was sad, because Gabby made me feel like anything was possible.
The next day I did some research and found that Gabby and I are the same age. “What an amazing woman!” I thought. “She’s out making the changes I only dream about.” Gabby inspired me to become more active in local politics. I started attending more fundraisers and events around my state. I donated time to the campaigns of several local politicians. And John and I gave money to Gabby’s 2010 congressional campaign, even though we’re not in her district.
This past Saturday morning I was lying face-down on my bed, having the same severe abdominal pain that has been tricking me up since November. My radio was set on “sleep”: it would play for an hour then turn itself off. I was listening to Paula Poundstone on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, when the announcer broke in, “We have more information on what may have been a politically motivated shooting in Tucson . . .“ and then silence—the hour was over.
In the moment it took me to drag my body up and turn the radio back on, my mind shuffled through the long roster of controversial Arizona politicians. Which one could possibly be the target of a violent attack? I will admit that my subconscious filled in that blank with a few names that would have been convenient for my own politics. When I turned the radio back on I heard, “We are live at the Safeway in Tucson and once again we report that Gabrielle Giffords has been shot point blank in the head.” My heart just dropped. Gabby?
I spent all day Sunday in the Chandler ER, where I got a CAT scan to see if the pain in my abdomen might require emergency surgery. The nurse inserted an IV, gave me fluids, and dosed me with Zofran and Morphine. I kept thinking about Gabby in the hospital in Tucson. I was sad about the great deal of pain she felt and would continue to feel. I need Gabby to get better because she cannot be replaced. Who is going to continue Gabby’s work? Who has the energy and strength to lead as Gabby did? Who has the combination of knowledge and kindness?
My CAT scan was clear and I was discharged at 3 pm. I will follow up with a GI doctor who I hope will help me determine the cause of the pain. It might be a food I can’t tolerate any more—something that used to nourish me but that is now toxic to my system. I know I am going to have to make some change for this pain to go away, and it’s not going to be easy but I’ll do it.
And at the same time, I have another change to make. As an American citizen, I have grown accustomed to a diet of political divisiveness. And I admit I have participated. I have made ad hominem attacks instead of focusing on facts. I have categorically refused to listen to some politicians because of what feels like their categorical refusal to listen to me. So while I’m changing habits, I want to change the way I communicate about politics. Because although the source of this violence seems to be one individual’s mental illness, the act itself was no doubt facilitated by a political climate that turns our neighbors into enemies.
From now on when I approach political topics I am going to think about Gabby’s smile, her spirit, and her goals. I will mindfully embrace kindness, tolerance, and the peaceful resolution of problems. And I will encourage others to do the same.