Solidarity after tragedy: UMC memorial to victims
In Tucson last Saturday, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was among the 19 people from our community who were shot at a constituent outreach event.
The initial reaction here and across the nation was an overwhelming outpouring of love and support. The intense political arguments that divide us were almost completely set aside, as people across the nation recognized this even at a truly horrific tragedy for everyone involved.
The news coverage related the events and solemnly relayed updates on the conditions of the victims, including a 9-year-old girl who was killed. Even the comments on Fox News were overwhelmingly positive messages of hope, and prayers for all the victims.
By the next day, all that had changed. The headlines throughout the day Sunday were already sharply political. The "radical left" was going to shamelessly exploit this tragedy to push for harsher gun laws. It was Sarah Palin's fault. The shooter was a deranged communist, or a Glenn Beck fan.
It was beyond appalling - one day out and a tragedy for our community, our city, and our nation had become just another news story, just another talking point for the tabloid pundits to sensationalize.
And that is where we still are today.
Those on the right continue to refuse to distance themselves from or appropriately condemn the inflammatory and violent rhetoric that should have no place in our national discourse, especially following this tragedy. Instead, they are choosing to play their familiar victimization role.
On the left, some have been admittedly opportunistic, disregarding the general violence in our country and the long history of violence in American politics in the pre-Glenn Beck era. Sarah Palin's cross-hairs, Jesse Kelly's M16 stunt, and Sharron Angle's Second-Amendment remedies, while grossly inappropriate and deeply offensive, did not make accused shooter Jared Loughner into a murderer.
From most of the people I know and have talked to, this has not been our reaction in Tucson. We are still shocked, still offering love, prayers, and support.
I spend a lot of time at the library inside the hospital where Rep. Giffords and many of the other victims were treated. While studying there throughout the weekend, I watched and was at times part of a continuous trickle of people weaving through the news vans and camera crews to the lawn in front of the main entrance, where an impromptu memorial of flowers and candles grew by the hour.
From early in the morning through late at night, there were always at least a few people standing there in solidarity. By the evening of the first night, you could smell these candles from the lobby, over 100 feet away.
As I lit the candle I brought, a trio to my left sang the most beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace I have ever heard. People stood alongside strangers in the night, crying, embracing, offering their blessings.
We came together as a community, and in the face of this horrid tragedy, we used our flowers and candles and pictures and prayers to make something beautiful out of something so awful. And we love.