Last month, we spent a great deal of time in our churches studying the Scripture passage that discusses the return of Joseph to the city of his family – Bethlehem. He was accompanied to the city of his family by his wife, Mary, who soon gave birth to Jesus Christ.
I can’t help but be so very incongruously reminded of this passage as I think about the city of my family. Certainly, there are those who might argue that the city of the Gawne family is Detroit, as that’s where most of them were born, and even that beyond that, the true city of our ancestry is somewhere in Ireland – or even on the Isle of Man. However, when I think of my father’s family, I think of the place where his father is buried, and where his mother will soon be laid to rest next to his father – Tucson, Arizona.
I myself was born in Tucson, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, in the southeastern part of the city. I only lived there until I was fifteen months old, but it is nonetheless the city from whence I came. And I say that thinking about this juxtaposed to the Scripture of Luke 2 is incongruous for one reason:
Yesterday’s events in front of the Safeway grocery store at 7110 N. Ina Road, in Tucson.
You see, yesterday, Saturday, January 8th, 2011, Tucson very nearly joined a very short and infamous list: cities where an elected representative of the United States government was assassinated. And while Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ, District #8) is currently expected to survive and even recover from being shot in the head at point blank range, we must not forget – so too was President William McKinley expected to survive. Tucson may yet join that list.
And as it is, an appointed representative of the US government was gunned down in cold blood in Tucson – the Honorable John Roll, chief judge for the US District Court in Arizona. Five others were murdered yesterday as well – Dorwin Stoddard, Dorthy Murray, and Phyllis Schneck, all in their seventies, all having lived full lives, but none deserving to die in such a horrible fashion; Gabriel Zimmerman, a young man barely older than me who had served Congresswoman Giffords as her community outreach director; and Christina Green, a little girl whose birth had been a bright spot on that most tragic of days – September 11th, 2001 – who had recently been elected to her student council and was attending the town hall meeting in the hopes of meeting Congresswoman Giffords.
Multiple other men and women were injured during the attack – an attack which was the work of one young, very disturbed man by the name of Jared Lee Loughner. Nobody knows why he chose to attack the town hall meeting yesterday – but plenty were quick to place blame. Many on the left rapidly demonized Sarah Palin for having presented a map the year before which placed gunsights on Democratic House members who were vulnerable in their re-election campaigns – one of those members having been Gabrielle Giffords. Many on the right responded with equally inflammatory rhetoric.
What good did that do anybody? No good at all.
And yet, for the first time in recent memory, our country’s leaders and lawmakers placed partisan politics to the side in light of the tragedy. Consider the words of Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), certainly no political ally of Congresswoman Giffords:
“An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve. Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society. Our prayers are with Congresswoman Giffords, her staff, all who were injured, and their families. This is a sad day for our country.”
“It is an assault on America, it is an assault on freedom,” said Trent Franks (R-AZ). “And more importantly than any of those other things, it was an assault on an innocent, decent child of God.”
Perhaps the greatest degree of outrage came from a man who would likely rarely side with Giffords on a legislative manner, but as an adoptive Arizonan and as somebody who has represented the state for longer than anybody else currently serving in Washington, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) felt that this could not stand:
“Whoever did this, whatever their reason, they are a disgrace to Arizona, this country and the human race,” he said. Certainly not the image that those “news” media on the far left and right would have us believe – that the Republicans and the Democrats despise one another to the bitter end.
Other condolences poured in from both the left and the right – President Barack Obama, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, DNC chairman Tim Kaine, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), and Senator John Kyl (R-AZ). And so these reactions to this moment must give one pause –
It is an unspeakable tragedy, without doubt. But within this tragedy there may be hope, for is it possible that this tragedy could be used to open the eyes of those on the right and left, to make them realize that the intractable, partisan bickering in which they have engaged for the last five years is untenable and will only serve to divide this country?
If so, then Congresswoman Giffords will have achieved perhaps the greatest accomplishment of her career – and the best part is, she will likely live to see it.
And even as we reflect on this tragedy, especially those of us to whom Arizona is near and dear, we must remember to persevere, for there is good elsewhere in this world: Hamas, the organization that has for so long plagued peace in the middle east, has issued a plea to militants in Palestine to cease attacks on Israel. Certainly, it is in their own best interests to do so, but if Hamas can move toward peace in Palestine… couldn’t we imagine that ANYTHING is possible?