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Memorial And Rally? Very Well: A Memorial and Rally

Jim Burroway

January 13th, 2011
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The memorial was nothing short of magnificent, and it was exactly what this city needed. It was, at turns, somber and celebratory. Tucsonans have been in a severely depressed funk, dazed and stunned that something like this could happen here.

I hear some small-minded grumbling that the event was somehow too “raucous” or a “rally.” Well you know what? A rally is just what we needed. Those who sit in judgment in their comfortable offices and studios on the coasts tut-tutting last night’s memorial haven’t had to drive by the still-closed Safeway every morning and every evening to and from work. They haven’t been within a thousand miles of the nightly vigils at UMC and at Gabrielle Giffords’s congressional office. They haven’t turned on television to see their own neighbors grieving in wall-to-wall coverage. They haven’t picked up their local newspapers to read the dozens of stories about the tragedy and then turn the page, thinking perhaps that they were finished with those heartbreaking stories, only to be confronted by the same familiar names and photos in the obituaries. They haven’t made plans to attend some of the funerals which begin today. They won’t pull over to the side of the road as the funeral processions pass on the way to the cemetery. They haven’t seen their beloved town turned into something unrecognizable. When they have experienced all of this, maybe then they can legitimately criticize our desire last night to tentatively shake off our sack cloths and wash away the ashes, if only for a moment. But not until then.

Tucsonans have undergone a stunned mourning for five solid days now. It’s about time we also celebrate, and yes, cheer, our community’s coming together and move toward the future. It is time to rally our wounded community, and to resolve to build a better, kinder, and more civilized world.

When tragedies like this strike, we expect the President to come grieve among the people. And yet, Tucsonans appeared genuinely surprised and touched when the President announced he was coming here. I had wanted to take a half-day off work and get in line for the memorial, but when I got up yesterday morning I learned that a long line had already formed the night before. By noon it was already clear that there was no way anyone who wasn’t already there would get into the McKale Center. So my partner and I saw it on television at home. I don’t know how the major networks carried the event. We chose to watch it on local TV, which simply carried the live feed and ditched the voiceovers, pundits and real-time crawls.

I thought Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s address was splendid. She was kind, wonderfully gracious, and very generous. The blessing at the beginning was touching, given by someone whose ancestry in Tchuk Shoon predates the arrival of “Americans” and reminds us of the timelessness of this valley that has drawn so many to the Old Pueblo, as we like to call our city. We celebrated our heros who ran toward the gunfire, and we learned for the first time that Gabby Giffords had opened her eyes. And with that, it is my hope that President Barack Obama’s exceptional speech opens all of our eyes, so that we, too, can build a society worthy of Christina Taylor-Green’s spirit.

Transcript of President Obama’s Speech
[This transcript is via Daily Beast]

To the families of those we’ve lost; to all who called them friends; to the students of this university, the public servants who are gathered here, the people of Tucson and the people of Arizona: I have come here tonight as an American who, like all Americans, kneels to pray with you today and will stand by you tomorrow. (Applause.)

There is nothing I can say that will fill the sudden hole torn in your hearts. But know this: The hopes of a nation are here tonight. We mourn with you for the fallen. We join you in your grief. And we add our faith to yours that Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other living victims of this tragedy will pull through. (Applause.)

Scripture tells us:

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.

On Saturday morning, Gabby, her staff and many of her constituents gathered outside a supermarket to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and free speech. (Applause.) They were fulfilling a central tenet of the democracy envisioned by our founders—representatives of the people answering questions to their constituents, so as to carry their concerns back to our nation’s capital. Gabby called it “Congress on Your Corner”—just an updated version of government of and by and for the people. (Applause.)

And that quintessentially American scene, that was the scene that was shattered by a gunman’s bullets. And the six people who lost their lives on Saturday—they, too, represented what is best in us, what is best in America. (Applause.)

Judge John Roll served our legal system for nearly 40 years. (Applause.) A graduate of this university and a graduate of this law school — (applause) — Judge Roll was recommended for the federal bench by John McCain 20 years ago — (applause) — appointed by President George H.W. Bush and rose to become Arizona’s chief federal judge. (Applause.)

His colleagues described him as the hardest-working judge within the Ninth Circuit. He was on his way back from attending Mass, as he did every day, when he decided to stop by and say hi to his representative. John is survived by his loving wife, Maureen, his three sons and his five beautiful grandchildren. (Applause.)

George and Dorothy Morris—“Dot” to her friends—were high school sweethearts who got married and had two daughters. They did everything together—traveling the open road in their RV, enjoying what their friends called a 50-year honeymoon. Saturday morning, they went by the Safeway to hear what their congresswoman had to say. When gunfire rang out, George, a former Marine, instinctively tried to shield his wife. (Applause.) Both were shot. Dot passed away.

A New Jersey native, Phyllis Schneck retired to Tucson to beat the snow. But in the summer, she would return East, where her world revolved around her three children, her seven grandchildren and 2-year-old great-granddaughter. A gifted quilter, she’d often work under a favorite tree, or sometimes she’d sew aprons with the logos of the Jets and the Giants—(laughter)—to give out at the church where she volunteered. A Republican, she took a liking to Gabby, and wanted to get to know her better. (Applause.)

Dorwan and Mavy Stoddard grew up in Tucson together—about 70 years ago. They moved apart and started their own respective families. But after both were widowed they found their way back here, to, as one of Mavy’s daughters put it, “be boyfriend and girlfriend again.” (Laughter.)

When they weren’t out on the road in their motor home, you could find them just up the road, helping folks in need at the Mountain Avenue Church of Christ. A retired construction worker, Dorwan spent his spare time fixing up the church along with his dog, Tux. His final act of selflessness was to dive on top of his wife, sacrificing his life for hers. (Applause.)

Everything—everything—Gabe Zimmerman did, he did with passion. (Applause.) But his true passion was helping people. As Gabby’s outreach director, he made the cares of thousands of her constituents his own, seeing to it that seniors got the Medicare benefits that they had earned, that veterans got the medals and the care that they deserved, that government was working for ordinary folks. He died doing what he loved—talking with people and seeing how he could help. And Gabe is survived by his parents, Ross and Emily, his brother, Ben, and his fiancée, Kelly, who he planned to marry next year. (Applause.)

And then there is nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green. Christina was an A student; she was a dancer; she was a gymnast; she was a swimmer. She decided that she wanted to be the first woman to play in the Major Leagues, and as the only girl on her Little League team, no one put it past her. (Applause.)

She showed an appreciation for life uncommon for a girl her age. She’d remind her mother, “We are so blessed. We have the best life.” And she’d pay those blessings back by participating in a charity that helped children who were less fortunate.

Our hearts are broken by their sudden passing. Our hearts are broken—and yet, our hearts also have reason for fullness.

Our hearts are full of hope and thanks for the 13 Americans who survived the shooting, including the congresswoman many of them went to see on Saturday.

I have just come from the University Medical Center, just a mile from here, where our friend Gabby courageously fights to recover even as we speak. And I want to tell you—her husband Mark is here and he allows me to share this with you—right after we went to visit, a few minutes after we left her room and some of her colleagues in Congress were in the room, Gabby opened her eyes for the first time. (Applause.) Gabby opened her eyes for the first time. (Applause.)

Gabby opened her eyes. Gabby opened her eyes, so I can tell you she knows we are here. She knows we love her. And she knows that we are rooting for her through what is undoubtedly going to be a difficult journey. We are there for her. (Applause.)

Our hearts are full of thanks for that good news, and our hearts are full of gratitude for those who saved others. We are grateful to Daniel Hernandez — (applause) — a volunteer in Gabby’s office. (Applause.)

And, Daniel, I’m sorry, you may deny it, but we’ve decided you are a hero because — (applause) — you ran through the chaos to minister to your boss, and tended to her wounds and helped keep her alive. (Applause.)

We are grateful to the men who tackled the gunman as he stopped to reload. (Applause.) Right over there. (Applause.) We are grateful for petite Patricia Maisch, who wrestled away the killer’s ammunition, and undoubtedly saved some lives. (Applause.) And we are grateful for the doctors and nurses and first responders who worked wonders to heal those who’d been hurt. We are grateful to them. (Applause.)

These men and women remind us that heroism is found not only on the fields of battle. They remind us that heroism does not require special training or physical strength. Heroism is here, in the hearts of so many of our fellow citizens, all around us, just waiting to be summoned -– as it was on Saturday morning. Their actions, their selflessness poses a challenge to each of us. It raises a question of what, beyond prayers and expressions of concern, is required of us going forward. How can we honor the fallen? How can we be true to their memory?

You see, when a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations —to try and pose some order on the chaos and make sense out of that which seems senseless. Already we’ve seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health system. And much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized—at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do—it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds. (Applause.)

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, “When I looked for light, then came darkness.” Bad things happen, and we have to guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.

For the truth is none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped these shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind. Yes, we have to examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of such violence in the future. (Applause.) But what we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. (Applause.) That we cannot do. (Applause.) That we cannot do.

As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together. (Applause.)

After all, that’s what most of us do when we lose somebody in our family—especially if the loss is unexpected. We’re shaken out of our routines. We’re forced to look inward. We reflect on the past: Did we spend enough time with an aging parent, we wonder. Did we express our gratitude for all the sacrifices that they made for us? Did we tell a spouse just how desperately we loved them, not just once in a while but every single day?

So sudden loss causes us to look backward—but it also forces us to look forward; to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us. (Applause.)

We may ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives. Perhaps we question whether we’re doing right by our children, or our community, whether our priorities are in order.

We recognize our own mortality, and we are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this Earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame—but rather, how well we have loved — (applause)– and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better. (Applause.)

And that process—that process of reflection, of making sure we align our values with our actions—that, I believe, is what a tragedy like this requires.

For those who were harmed, those who were killed—they are part of our family, an American family 300 million strong. (Applause.) We may not have known them personally, but surely we see ourselves in them. In George and Dot, in Dorwan and Mavy, we sense the abiding love we have for our own husbands, our own wives, our own life partners. Phyllis—she’s our mom or our grandma; Gabe our brother or son. (Applause.) In Judge Roll, we recognize not only a man who prized his family and doing his job well, but also a man who embodied America’s fidelity to the law. (Applause.)

And in Gabby—in Gabby, we see a reflection of our public-spiritedness; that desire to participate in that sometimes frustrating, sometimes contentious, but always necessary and never-ending process to form a more perfect union. (Applause.)

And in Christina—in Christina we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic, so full of magic. So deserving of our love. And so deserving of our good example.

If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate—as it should—let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost. (Applause.) Let’s make sure it’s not on the usual plane of politics and point-scoring and pettiness that drifts away in the next news cycle.

The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better. To be better in our private lives, to be better friends and neighbors and coworkers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their death helps usher in more civility in our public discourse, let us remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy—it did not—but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud. (Applause.)

We should be civil because we want to live up to the example of public servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all Americans, and that we can question each other’s ideas without questioning each other’s love of country and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American Dream to future generations. (Applause.)

They believed—they believed, and I believe that we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved life here—they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another, that’s entirely up to us. (Applause.)

And I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us. (Applause.)

That’s what I believe, in part because that’s what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed. (Applause.)

Imagine—imagine for a moment, here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that some day she, too, might play a part in shaping her nation’s future. She had been elected to her student council. She saw public service as something exciting and hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

I want to live up to her expectations. (Applause.) I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it. (Applause.) All of us—we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations. (Applause.)

As has already been mentioned, Christina was given to us on September 11th, 2001, one of 50 babies born that day to be pictured in a book called “Faces of Hope.” On either side of her photo in that book were simple wishes for a child’s life. “I hope you help those in need,” read one. “I hope you know all the words to the National Anthem and sing it with your hand over your heart.” (Applause.) “I hope you jump in rain puddles.”

If there are rain puddles in Heaven, Christina is jumping in them today. (Applause.) And here on this Earth—here on this Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and we commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit.

May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in restful and eternal peace. May He love and watch over the survivors. And may He bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

Comments

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andrewb
January 13th, 2011 | LINK

Hate to be a pooper, but the cheering and rallying at a memorial service is completely out of place. I found the hooting and hollering VERY distasteful. It bothered me to see the GOP misuse 911 for political ends (and rallies), and this, too, feels disrespectful and opportunistic. Just struck a wrong note in my book.

Kelly
January 13th, 2011 | LINK

THANK YOU. I was so moved by that event (I was in the overflow seats in the stadium, which were almost full AFTER McKale was full), and have been so disheartened by people’s comments afterward. Who has the right to criticize how anyone grieves?

You write that pundits don’t know because it hasn’t happened in their communities. Well, I have two friends who DO know because it DID happen in their communities. One had a sister who was at Columbine and another was a teacher at Virginia Tech. And they both said their memorials were similar. Like pep rallies, because that’s what they needed, and it’s what we needed. A memorial service is not a funeral. It’s a time to celebrate the lives of those lost and those who survived.

I’m sick of people telling me that I grieved wrong, that WE grieved wrong.

Annie Wilson
January 13th, 2011 | LINK

Hey Jim – Have been talking with George and with Annie P about the shooting and we were wondering how you were, so I went to your website and found this! It was horrible to see such familiar scenes on the television news, shown as an aftermath to such carnage. Hateful to have to associate Tucson with such a thing.

Obama’s visit was obviously very effective and appreciated by all concerned. I just wish people would let that man get on with his job because he has his heart in the right place and knows what needs to be done… but don’t get me started.

We will be thinking about you and your community during the time of funerals to come. And yes, it was right that there should have been some kind of rallying call with Obama’s visit, and it was not at all misplaced.

Paul in Canada
January 13th, 2011 | LINK

Thanks Jim – it’s so good to hear a confirmation that what was delivered is what Tusconans needed at that moment.

For those of us so far away, it seemed a bit odd, but I can certainly understand the need for some ‘positive’ after so many days of sorrow.

I did find it odd that no one talked about the role of ‘forgiveness’ in the healing process. But maybe it’s just too soon for that….

Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with you all in Tuscon.

Steve Krotz
January 13th, 2011 | LINK

I’ve lived in Arizona (Tempe) for 13 years now and feel very much a part of this community.

While watching Obama’s speech last night, I too started feeling that it may be turning into a rally rather than a memorial service. I too was, at first, a little uncomfortable with the seemingly raucous cheering from the students in attendance. But as Obama continued, his words and the reaction they inspired began to feel more and more as exactly the right things to say and the right things to do. By the end, I realized how extraordinarily appropriate and stunningly brilliant his words and his presence were. It reminded me of why I was such a staunch supporter of his candidacy.

I was also very moved and incredibly impressed by the dignified presence, humility and amazingly articulate and succinct comments under extreme pressure of Daniel Hernandez. He is one of the best and most inspiring representatives of our community we could ever have asked for.

Kudos to everyone involved.

David Wachter
January 13th, 2011 | LINK

University Medical Center is half a mile west of where I work, a midtown Episcopal church. Congresswoman Giffords’ office is right on my most direct route home. I was acquainted with Judge John Roll many years ago, before he was appointed a judge, when I was organist at SS. Peter and Paul Church, and remember him as a genuinely humble man who lived his faith.

Thank you, Jim, for giving words to what many of us Tucsonans feel. I too watched the memorial service on TV at home, with my partner. I too had thought seriously of going to the service, but work and the already-huge crowd urged me to go home instead. And we watched it on the local PBS station, with minimal interference from commentators.

Maybe I could have wished that people would behave in a more somber fashion; I think, however, that there was just too much electricity in the air. This was a public memorial event, not a church funeral.

I’m an organist, and a life-long Tucsonan. I’ve played all kinds of funerals, from the most buttoned-up, proper, grim services where hardly anyone makes a sound, to funerals for beloved parish members who have really made a difference through their lives, with hundreds of people gathered to pay their respects and sing their hearts out, nearly drowning out the organ, and who laugh heartily at happy recollections by eulogizers.

I’ll take heartfelt, honest emotion any time over stilted somberness. And, yes, I’m touched and grateful that the President of the United States came to what I still think of as sleepy little old Tucson, the small town with a million people living here.

Mark F.
January 13th, 2011 | LINK

“And with that, it is my hope that President Barack Obama’s exceptional speech opens all of our eyes, so that we, too, can build a society worthy of Christina Taylor-Green’s spirit.”

Perhaps that society will not include spending a trillion dollars a year on the military, maintaining military bases throughout the world, invading and occupying other countries, killing innocent people with predator drones and imprisoning thousands for victimless crimes.

Jim Burroway
January 13th, 2011 | LINK

Annie!

Thanks for stopping by. We miss you.

Kelly!

Great to hear from you. Thanks for adding your vote of confidence, and hold your kids close.

David, (I don’t think we’ve ever met, have we?)

Thanks for adding your voice.

CPT_Doom
January 13th, 2011 | LINK

14 years ago this month, we lost my wonderful mother to pancreatic cancer; she was only 58. The traditional Irish wake was not very traditional, as it is hard to celebrate the life of someone who died too soon and because Ma was a teacher for nearly 35 years and we had hundreds of her former students at the funeral home, nearly all in tears.

The next day was the funeral and the priest who said the Mass was an old family friend. He began his remarks by recollecting the first time he met Ma. He was a new priest just assigned to the parish and as my mother came up to greet him after church the Pastor warned him, “here comes Mary, she’s a real piece of work.” Anyone who knew Ma would agree, and the laughter that followed echoed through the church. It seemed inappropriate to some, but to those of us who knew and loved this remarkable woman, who had been making jokes on her own deathbed, it was the perfect tribute.

I thought the cheering was a bit much early on in the service, if only because it prevented some speakers from getting their remarks out, but like many others, by the end I thought it was perfect. I was in tears by the end, and thought Obama did a fantastic job. His decision to frame the speech using the hopes and dreams of a lost 9-year-old was a stroke of oratorical genius.

Counterlight
January 13th, 2011 | LINK

No tut tutting from this coast, from me in New York anyway. We have a little idea how folks in Tuscon might be feeling about now.
I thought the event was splendid, and very much as you describe, by turns somber and celebratory.
I send everyone in Tuscon my best wishes.

Jim Brunk
January 13th, 2011 | LINK

I totally agree with your assessment of the situation. Life here has been totally surreal since Saturday. Gold’s gym… just on the NW corner. I go to Safeway all the time; and have had a very hard time getting my mind around the fact that this could have happened at a place where I frequent. And to a person who so surely was one of the best congressional members I have ever had represent a district in which I reside. The Memorial was very Tucson and Extremely appropriate for who we are as a city. For me, it served as an anchor reminding me that life- although changed so drastically- can go on in a positive direction. Like a wound on a tree, life will find a way to incorporate that wound and turn it in a direction that gives character.

andrewb
January 14th, 2011 | LINK

I totally hear the comments about celebrating life — I’ve had grand times at funerals and wakes for close family. I think it would have struck me differently if it were the friends and family hooting and hollering, not a stadium full of people, outside speakers with potential opportunities for gain, and the political context of it all.

I’m not prepared to tell anyone how to grieve family and friends, but folks from the “outside” always need to be extra-mindful.. Mind you, that goes for passive observers like myself, as well as special political guest speakers. For what it’s worth.

Annie P
January 14th, 2011 | LINK

Hi Jim – my computer crashed but I’ve borrowed next door’s!! I’ve been closely following with horror and anguish the events in our home town. Your piece is beautifully written, and thanks for posting Obama’s speech as I missed it.

Kathy
January 14th, 2011 | LINK

Jim, we grieve differently. To be honest, I had a hard time with “Together We Thrive” before we even buried the first victim. I wasn’t close to thriving. I live here and clearly I’m not as far along in the process as you & Kelly are. In my tradition and experience, the time between a death and the funeral is subdued. My background is Irish Catholic. So I know how a party and laughter (& drink) are a comfort, but we did that after we laid our loved one to rest. So don’t judge us too harshly. We were struggling Wednesday night and people were jumping up and waving on the Jumbo-tron. It was shocking. But clearly they grieve differently than I do. I thought it was disrespectful but I have since learned that it’s different, not wrong. We too had a different reaction. maybe we’re not “wrong”?

Timothy Kincaid
January 14th, 2011 | LINK

A very classy inclusive bi-partisan speech.

As for delivery or reaction… I’ll let those most effected choose the level of appropriateness and I’ve not heard complaint from them.

Kelly
January 14th, 2011 | LINK

Kathy, there’s a difference between being personally uncomfortable, as you are, and telling others they did it wrong. You are totally within bounds, particularly as a member of the community, to feel that it wasn’t right for you. That’s different than pundits in New York telling us we did it wrong. Nothing you’ve said has made me bristle, but plenty of other people have said stuff that I found terribly hurtful and judgmental.

Did you catch Jon Stewart’s take on this on Thursday night’s “Daily Show.” He nailed exactly what I was feeling, and John Oliver and Samantha Bee did a wonderful job of portraying the condescending tone I was feeling from those outside our community who were telling us we didn’t now how to “publicly grieve to [their] expectations.”

Kelly
January 14th, 2011 | LINK

I wonder, too, Kathy (and others who watched on TV and found it awkward), if you might have felt different if you had been in the crowd. The energy in a large crowd, as there was both in McKale and in the football stadium, is very different than in your own living room. It might have felt awkward to me, too, if I’d been home with just my family. But in a big crowd like that, where the speaker is so far away, it felt completely natural to express our emotions in a big way. And believe me, it wasn’t all happy cheering. We cried, too. But I think the venue has a lot of bearing on the energy of an event. Columbine’s and Virginia Tech’s large stadium memorials had similar energy as here. Certainly it would have seemed out of place for that kind of response in a small house of worship, for example.

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