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09 January 2011

Echoes of Congresswoman Gifford's Shooting

The tragic shooting at Congresswoman Gifford's meet and greet at a Tucson, Arizona Safeway market brings many issues to the hearts and minds of Americans. While much of America was obsessed with the NFL playoffs on Saturday, the tragic news had been breaking all day long. Gradually, more and more details became known.

Six people were killed, including a nine year old girl named Christina Taylor Green. Christina was born on 09-11-01, the miracle of her life included in the book Faces of Hope, featuring 50 babies born on 9-11. Apparently, she was a very patriotic and socially conscious girl and also quite an athlete -- she was the second baseman on a baseball team with all boys. Her grandfather is Dallas Green who managed the Philadelphia Phillies to a world championship in 1980.

The irony or coincidence of a child of hope being murdered in this way only underscores the fact that we as Americans in 2011 are missing the big picture of life in the post 9-11 era. Placing blame appears to be the first order of business among many directly and indirectly involved in this event -- finding a way to benefit politically from this horrific act is also first and foremost on the minds of many. We can start directing blame on the Tea Party, the availability of guns, Sarah Palin's cross-hairs pointed at the members of Congress, talk radio, hate speech, etc. This trend of assigning blame is troubling and very sad. But I realize we humans want answers fast. We want reasons. We crave simplicity in cause and effect. We need an evil to fight against. Yet this is the very lesson of 9-11 we've missed. After almost a decade of war, death and destruction, we still don't get it.

For a brief moment it seemed after 9-11 there was a sense of community and compassion rarely experienced on such a grand scale. I was in NYC quite often during the fall of 2001. I could feel the love -- everywhere it seemed there were random acts of kindness from one fellow human being to another. We didn't need a reason to help someone only that we were all in this mess together. Somehow that spirit quickly morphed into one of war, violence, and revenge for what was done to us -- I remember sitting in a famous vegetarian restaurant and couldn't believe what I was hearing only weeks after 9-11; these former peace-nicks, old-hippies and young vegans were calling, right there at the community table, for the blood of the terrorists. Our leaders at the time took us more firmly in that direction, and here we are a decade later with no more peace in the world, hundreds of thousands of lives ruined by war, and no less suffering, only more political discord and more finger pointing at the "other".

And now this beautiful child Christina Taylor Green has been sacrificed at the alter of hate. Of course,there have been tens of thousands of children all over the world killed in the wars that have followed 9-11, but Christina's death is right in front of us , so she is harder to ignore. It is an unspeakable tragedy - there are no words to understand it, no way to make sense of it, and no easily assignable blame, as if that would solve anything anyway. We must find a way to honor this girl's memory in a good way. We must attempt to be human once more -- we're slipping away from that ideal, and I fear we won't survive all that is to come in the next few years and decades (and believe me THAT'S A LOT) if we don't stick together and take care of each other.

This notion of the "other" is most damaging and dangerous, and it cuts across all political persuasions, economic backgrounds and levels of education -- the only constant is we are more frequently prone to see the person thinking differently than us as someone outside of our trusted circle, our opponent, or even our enemy. In a twisted, violent, and paranoid mind, this scenario often plays out with dire consequences. Considering all the violence inherent in every aspect of our culture, from the actions of our Government in wars to the content of most television shows and video games, it is a wonder such shootings don't occur even more frequently. Everywhere we look gruesome images are raining down on us in the name of politics or even entertainment.

The person who disagrees with you politically is not "other". They are just like you, probably driven by the same motivations and considerations you are -- maybe they mean well and maybe they don't, but we must stop this polarization. We must try to find something, anything, about this "other" person to which we can relate, share, or otherwise stand on common ground with. As I hear stories of those who knew the "shooter", they all same the same thing, what most "friends" of shooters in these types of killings always say -- he was a loner, outcast, crazy, had no friends, etc. Did you ever put your arm around this person? Did you ever hug him? Invite him to dinner? Reach out to him in among his "otherness" or "weirdness"? It all just makes no sense to me. We must strive for understanding if not acceptance, and treat others with civility and respect, no matter if they differ from us politically or any other way. Unless we come with a spirit of compassion, we are no better than the intolerance or injustice we (whoever "we" are -- Tea Party or Left-Winger) would strive to stop.

I must ask are we not even allowed to mourn the victims before assigning blame? Can we not pray for the survivors and the souls of the dead? Must we first continue to feed the fires of partisan politics emphasized by the people who are looking for someone to blame?

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