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Southern Arizonans reflect on the tragedy of Jan. 8 and its aftermath

Tucson these days seems on fire.

Each day, I find myself unable to tell if I'm watching local news or national news. I switch on the box and see the faces of the community I know and sort of love emblazoned on the screen ... the guy who sang the national anthem at the nationally televised memorial service sang as a soloist with my choir. The barrister interviewed on NBC serves me my berry cobbler at Epic Café. I sang in the church where Christina-Taylor Green was a member.

It's all close to home, though no direct hit to my life. This time.

The name Tucson has become synonymous with terror. Like Oklahoma City. Like Laramie. Like Columbine. Tucson will never shake itself free of this association. And so now, we in Tucson stand naked while the whole nation picks on us as a town of rednecks, hack politicians, vitriolic gun-toters and Bible-thumpers. But we aren't that, or not JUST that.

Tucson is not the rest of Arizona, like Laramie is not the rest of Wyoming. Sure, there are regions of ideology. You wouldn't catch me living in Alabama or Utah. But I know that if I did have that misfortune, I'd find something lovable about each place ... like there's something lovable about each person. Even me. Even you. Even Jared Loughner.

People who have known me since I left the liberal climes of California for the prickly Southwest know that I have struggled immensely with Tucson. People ask: Why did you move there? Didn't you see all the folks in the bar sing with Borat, "Throw the Jew down the well?"

Yeah, so why DID I move here? And more importantly, why haven't I left? Most recently, I've had to ask myself: Is it worth staying?

The answer is: Where else would I go? There is no escaping America's mediocrity, violence, hack politicians and religious nutbags. California? Are you kidding me? Portland? Someone just tried to blow up Pioneer Square. Austin? An island in the middle of nutbags. OK, maybe Vermont. But Vermont is VERMONT! Do I even know the capital without looking it up?

I'd like to believe that some good will come of all this negative attention, but I'm not optimistic. Maybe some progressive, peace-minded folks will see this as a call for intervention: "Honey, let's pile into the Prius and move to Tucson, because they need us right now." Right. More likely, this sends the call out to other nutjobs around the nation to come to Arizona to be among like thinkers. Let's hope not.

I do know that gun sales have spiked since the shootings, and Gabby and Judge John Roll were opposed to gun control. In my dream world, Gabby will come out of the hospital fired up and ready to pass new gun laws. Dream on.

But I do think some of the deeper questions about mental illness and impassioned violence are being asked. Again. Didn't we do that after Virginia Tech and whatever the last slaying of the month was? Are we evolving? Are we changing? Look, humanity is one big, fat, stinking experiment, and although at times, it seems like we're failing miserably, remember: It's all a big learning process, and no one gets out alive, anyway. So have we failed? I don't think so. But could we change for the better? Of course. Will we? Don't ask me; I'm a cynic.

Here's what I intend to do: I intend to stay here and stay calm, enjoying the sunshine and stark beauty of the desert. You'll find me volunteering with my neighborhood association, shopping at the farmers' market on Sunday, stealing grapefruit from parking lots, curing my olives and cycling to choir on Tuesday nights. You'll find me in the garden waiting for the penstemons to bloom (any day now!), playing the piano in the afternoon and sitting by the pool at sunset. There, I'll be nursing a beer and my broken heart. Nothing has changed in my world.

David Gilmore is a Tucson based writer and photographer. He is the author of Homosteading at the Nineteenth Parallel and an avid blogger (facetothewind.wordpress.com). You can reach him at davidgdesigns@gmail.com.


The word "Arizona" used to elicit feelings of stark indifference around the country, with the buzzwords ranging from "newfangled, hot, uninviting, nothing" to "Wyatt Earp, cowboys, Indians." But SB 1070 shook things up and was the pinnacle of the state's streak into the dark stratum of conservative-policy experiments—frightening ones involving antediluvian gun regulations and codified xenophobia.

Arizona deserves a bit of the disrepute that arises from its bad behavior. But even I have to admit that I was a bit miffed following the tragedy when I saw a headline at The Huffington Post reading something to effect of, "Arizona Is a Crazy Fucking Place." I paraphrase, of course, but the gist was the same.

You can, I submit, expect some of the country to take up this view. After all, many musicians don't want to serenade us anymore. Ethnic studies are banned. It should follow, therefore, that we are dimly viewed, depending on one's values.

However, I can't, in spite of my first instincts, do as others have in the wake of the shootings, and give into temptation.

To be sure, the shootings were inherently political. After all, Gabrielle Giffords is a politician, and the offender presumably had political grievances. And I am not surprised that the gears of political rhetoric have begun to move at full steam, with pundits clamoring to their respective parapets. But I don't see this as a political event, really, in the slightest. While gun-worshiping Sarah Palin may have drawn cheeky targets on her idiotic political map, the relationship between her and Jared Loughner, who talks about "conscience (sic) dreaming" his way through reality, is not evident. It would, in fact, take a board-certified psychiatrist to definitively offer up any clues as to what makes Loughner tick.

A direct rationale for his actions can't be found in the rhetoric of a bunch of idiots on the perpetual stump. If we are willing to accept that, say, the invisible hand of the Tea Party or Rush Limbaugh may have been at play, then we have to be prepared to accept Tipper Gore's "Filthy Fifteen" bullshit, or the notion that Marilyn Manson was somehow a catalyst for Columbine. But most of us have learned that these kinds of arguments and finger-pointing are usually problematic and unsound.

I happen to believe that the majority of Arizonans, however politically inclined, are a peace-loving people. So, fellow liberals, don't lose your head by giving into the enticements of finger-pointing and other forms of vitriolic rhetoric. Please.

Tim Workman is an alumnus of the UA with a degree in Arabic and near Eastern studies who is currently employed as a sandwich-maker. He is often found indulging in his bizarre Russian hip-hop fetish.


Cable-news commentators, many from Fox News, have laid into the organizers and attendees of the memorial service at McKale Center for, among other things, printing T-shirts for the event, for cheering, for the seating arrangements and for the traditional Pascua Yaqui tribal blessing that opened the memorial.

Brit Hume blamed the "tone and atmosphere" of the memorial—which he found lacking—on the blessing. "The whole thing is attributable in part to the remarkable opening blessing that was delivered by, what was his name, Carlos Gonzales, who, by the time it was over with, he had blessed the reptiles of the sea, and he had prayed to the four doors of the building, and while I'm sure that all has an honorable tradition with his people, with it was most peculiar," he said.

Well, unlike the commenting class on Fox (and MSNBC and CNN and all the rest), I was at McKale Center on Jan. 12.

I'm just a humble reporter, not given to editorializing. But this is my town, my friends, my Tucson that was shattered. I've spent the last week working the clock around, reporting. I haven't had many moments to reflect, but here, for what they're worth, are my thoughts.

What I witnessed on Jan. 12 was a community coming together in grief, in collective relief, and in recognition of the heroism of those who saved lives that terrible morning.

People spontaneously cheered long before the official start of the program. Sheriff's deputies and police officers, firefighters and EMTs all received ovations as they came into the building individually. The families of the victims were cheered. The survivors who were able to attend were recognized by the crowd. Elected officials were cheered as they found their seats.

The brave souls who ended the shooting rampage were cheered. When the most visible faces of the past week—the doctors treating Gabby Giffords—casually walked through the crowd like any other attendee, the loudest cheer of the night was heard.

There was nothing staged or choreographed about the crowd's reaction. To me, it felt like we were a family. It was as genuine and heartfelt as the memorials of candles and flowers that have sprung up at University Medical Center, Gabby's office and elsewhere.

Ever been to a Tucson wake? Now you have.

I don't expect anyone from the well-heeled commentariat to get how we do things here in our dusty town, and I don't particularly care that they don't. But it is insulting to the memory of those lost, to the needs of those wounded physically and psychically, to the calm professionalism of those who responded, and to the community that has rallied with symbols of hope and actions of support, to criticize a moment when we came together.

President Obama's speech rose to the occasion. It was both somber and rousing. The thoughts offered by the other officials who spoke were reflective and appropriate. Daniel Hernandez, one of the ordinary people who performed extraordinary deeds on Jan. 8, was humbled and stunned by the crowd's reaction.

Dr. Gonzales' invocation was a moving representation of Tucson's embrace of our many cultures. Perhaps it wasn't Brit Hume's cup of tea, but who's going to listen to someone who so openly and ignorantly mocks the faith of another?

I can't imagine there is a single person in Tucson who has gone untouched by this tragedy. Only a last-minute decision kept me from being at that "Congress on Your Corner" event myself. It has affected our friends and colleagues; for some, our family members; and for all, those who we consider family.

Now, the satellite trucks are pulling out of town. The media from around the world are moving on to the next big story.

We're the ones who remain. We remain to mourn, to help each other pick up the pieces, to cry and, yes, to laugh.

Together.

—Dylan Smith is the editor and publisher of TucsonSentinel.com. View the unedited version of this piece at www.tucsonsentinel.com/opinion/report/011411_giffords_memorial_my_take.


GRIEVING GABBY

It is now two days

since the first flinch.

The bolt of fear

grabbed me by the throat and

sped through my body entire—

down my legs and back up my arms.

It keeps circling throughout all of me

as if trapped in the channels of a pinball

machine.

I am riveted by and tethered to

electronic voices, pictures, videos.

They are assaulting me

with repetitive messages that

keep re-carving the wounds into my skin.

The horror is here

in OUR town

desecrating

OUR friends

OUR heroes

and OUR innocents unknown.

I am tired, and the headache never leaves

me.

Seeking relief, I turn it all off—

the radio, TV, laptop, cell phone all shut

down

hoping it will go away,

vanish as nightmares do when you open

the blinds at sunrise.

I am yearning for a reboot

when all the ugly messages disappear from

the blue screen and your

home page is normal again.

But I can't disconnect for long.

I can't unchain myself

from the suffering

from the possibility of change.

I have to bear witness

or I feel I've

turned my back

on the bedsides and the graves.

It is so confusing to see the sun smiling

when I feel it should be dark.

The sky is clear desert blue

when I want it gray and shrouded in clouds.

It should be deep black and stormy loud

to protest

the violence, hatred and madness that

senselessly

stole the tomorrows of the fallen and so

gravely threatens hers.

Our tomorrows will be so much less

if we lose her.

In hours I will have to rejoin

the world.

I will have to leave here and re enter

my real life.

It will not seem real or good or meaningful

until she is back

with us

safe.

—Nance Crosby is retired from Estate and Corporate Advisors Inc., a financial advisory firm. She's the founder of the nonprofit Hope Has a Name Fund Inc., which funds Healing Therapy Treatments for cancer patients in financial need.

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