Tucson’s Morality

by Nelia Dingcong Bernabe
January 21, 2011
Two weeks later, we are still talking about the tragedy in Tucson. The aftermath of the carnage yielded six deaths and 13 injuries including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who is in serious condition with the extent of her injuries still unknown.

Two weeks later, we now know a little bit about the identified gunman. Discussions have ensued since then on the issue of mental illness and what could have been done to help the young man before it was too late.

In just a matter of minutes, this country – already grappling with so many challenges – was shaken down to its very core. The tragedy was senseless, tragic, and sad. Innocent lives were lost; a nine-year-old girl is gone way too soon!

The growing makeshift memorial outside of the hospital where those who were wounded were brought, including the congresswoman, is a testament to how much this tragedy has affected and moved people. Candles, mementos, and poignant signs of support fill the grounds of the hospital. Every day, visitors stop by to offer their prayers and show solidarity by simply being there.

When President Obama addressed a capacity-crowd at the University of Arizona for the memorial service last week, his eloquence and compassion soothed the wrangled nerves of this nation and every American whose lives changed after that fateful day at Safeway.

But one question remains. What now?
As the president said in his speech, “…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.”

How many more lives will be lost before we understand what it truly means to be civil, kind, and compassionate?

“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 co-workers 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,” President Obama said in his speech.

With all the challenges that ail this great nation, it is hard for me to wrap my arms around this tragedy because of its senselessness. I will never understand how one human being gets to a point in his life where he wakes up one morning and tells himself: today is the day that I will kill people. It is utterly incomprehensible.

But what I can understand is the mystery that clouds the human brain when it comes to mental illness. My heart goes out to the suspect’s parents. I read stories of how his mother stayed in bed crying for days after the incident. I read his father recounting his encounter with his son a few hours before the shooting. One thing I know is this. My heart cries for them and I could not even imagine being in their shoes – the gut-wrenching guilt, the questions, the self-blame, the what ifs, and the shame.

Congresswoman Giffords’ husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, told Diane Sawyer in a recent interview that he is willing to meet with the suspect’s parents. I applaud him for that. For me, it’s a big sign of hope, that in times when the most unthinkable thing happened to his family and in the face of his extreme pain, he is willing to open his heart.

I truly can say this to answer my own question. When confronted with a tragedy, human-inflicted or otherwise, there is no other country on the face of this earth that can pull itself together in touching more meaningful ways than this great nation. This country and its people have always come together and the Tucson tragedy has shown the world what it means to do just that. In a great show of unity and support, Americans from all walks of life have banded together.

“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,” President Obama said.

As we closely monitor the congresswoman’s recovery, we find comfort in knowing that the dialogue on civility, compassion, kindness, and becoming your brother’s keeper has been rekindled. It is sad to think that it took another tragedy for us to start talking about our moral conscience but it is encouraging to know that the discussion has been stirred in the right direction.

Tucson’s morality lies in great part on people like Capt. Mark Kelly who is leading a fine example on forgiveness, people like Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who is showing all of us what strength really means as she fights for her life, people who have been bestowed the honor of being called the heroes of the Tucson tragedy for putting their lives on the line, and those who have lost their lives and the resolve of those who want to honor their memories by doing the right thing.

For those of us who are hundreds or even thousands of miles away from Tucson, we will do our part by fervently praying for the speedy recovery of those who are injured and those who are grieving that they may find peace and heal soon. I pray too that people will follow through with their discussion on compassion, kindness, and loving one another before another tragedy happens. The time to act has finally arrived.

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