On January 8th, 2011, a little known United States Representative named Gabrielle Giffords went from being just a Democrat in a hotly contested district to being the victim of an atrocious act of violence that had the potential to reshape the civil discourse throughout the country.
A gunman opened fire at a shopping center in Tuscon, Arizona on that fateful day as Giffords was addressing voters at an event, killing six people and wounding thirteen others, including the Congresswoman. She was shot in the head during the chaos that followed, and her prognosis looked bleak as newscasters across the country laid out the shocking details for a stunned public.
The notion of a government official, much less an elected representative, being shot while in the course of their duties of communicating with constituents is a horrifying prospect, but one that became shockingly real on that sunny day in Tuscon. Congressmen and women were asked to beef up their own personal security, and some minimized the amount of events that they do in their districts. These were all unfortunate consequences of the actions of one madman, but the story that surrounded Giffords at the attack proved to be more of an inspiration than a reason for despair.
Despite being shot in the head at point-blank range, Giffords slowly regained the ability to speak and walk, and she is largely functioning at normal levels now. Yes, her voice is still a bit unsteady and she isn't as strong as she used to be, but her recovery has been nothing short of miraculous, including a return to Washington to vote last year on raising the debt ceiling, an appearance that prompted chills, tears, and universal praise for her progress.
Now, a little more than a year later, Giffords is in the news again, but this time it's a little bit more bittersweet than previous stories related to her recovery. On Sunday, Giffords announced that she will be stepping down from her seat as Representative from Arizona's eighth district as of Monday, and instead spending her time focusing on recovering fully from her wounds. Obviously, anyone with half a heart will wish her all the best in her recovery, as people like President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner did, but it's still sad that her public service in that realm will not continue after tomorrow.
All of that being said, it's important to remember exactly why Giffords' story is so important in the grand scheme of things. Yes, she is resigning from the House, but all of us can take her pleas for civility in our public discourse to heart. Too often now, whether it be from the Occupy protesters or Tea Party members, the rhetoric of politics has become so heated that often times it becomes nothing more than angry screaming matches instead of civilized discussion of the issues.
As Giffords herself has brought up since the attempt on her life, we need to keep in mind what's really important when it comes to politics, and that is to find common ground in order to get things done. Generating hate does nothing but inflame passions, and that is not the best way to get anything done in a day and age where America needs more doers instead of more talkers. Politicians on both sides of the aisle need to tone town their talk about even the most controversial of issues, because if they don't, the fear of similar attacks to the one that nearly took Giffords' life will be realized.
As for Giffords herself, I have two hopes for her. The first, of course, is that she continues to recover and reaches a point as close to where she was before the shooting occurred, and that she can enjoy as normal a life as possible.
The second thing, which obviously is not as important as the first thing but still carries a great deal of weight, is the hope that she will never fade into the distance in our memories. That will mostly involve her continuing to write books and maybe even give a speech or two along the way to encourage us to remain involved with politics, but to be classy in the way that we do it. Staying out in front of this fight for civility would be incredibly inspiring for those of us who seek to be active in our communities in a positive fashion, and I hope that Giffords will take that initiative now that she doesn't have a public office to attend to.
We all could stand to be a little bit more like Gabrielle Giffords, and while her situation is somewhat sad, it's incredibly inspiring as well. I know that it's over three weeks since New Year's Day, but I feel that all of us should resolve to not only get involved in these debates about the future of our country, but to do it in a responsible, positive, and constructive way.
God bless you, Miss Giffords, and may your life be fulfilling both in private and in public. I can only hope that I get to meet you in the future just to shake your hand and thank you for your example.