Phyllis Scheck, age 79; Dorthy Morris, age 76; Dorwin Stoddard, age 76; Judge John Roll, age 63; Gabriel Zimmerman, age 30; Christina Green, age 9.
As you read this, those six human beings–mostly anonymous to the world but beloved of their families and friends–are being grieved, waked, remembered, mourned, celebrated and interred. They were murdered at a shopping center, on January 8 by an incoherent, mentally ill young man who was somehow able to get hands on a gun.
With the exception of Zimmerman and Green, the dead were senior citizens. Had they not been killed, it is likely that a couple of them would have lived long enough to observe the nation enter into serious discussion about what will be the defining issue of the new decade: the value of human life when it is “advanced” in age, imperfect in form, and too expensive to justify on the healthcare spread sheets. They are now past wondering if the lives they had, and wished to keep, would pass cost-analysis muster. In the language of the most-compassionate among us, they—and their families—have been “spared” those “quality of life” anxieties.
Zimmerman had just entered the ripest years of adulthood–the time when adolescent dreaming has been dashed upon the rocks of practicality; first-strivings have mercifully passed, and one is finally getting a sense of self, where one fits in, and what is still possible. His was an age of dreams re-defined, then refined. As an aide to Gabrielle Giffords, a congresswoman who–by all accounts–is liked and respected by her D.C. colleagues, Zimmerman could justly envision a future full of promise–one protected from most downturns, economic or electoral, thanks to the useful connections gathered during meetings, or purposeful strolls through the halls of the capital building. The pre-empting of all of that promise is grievous. And doubtlessly for the hundreds of thirty-ish political aides working in federal buildings and state capitals–those whom we called “young guns” before last weekend–Zimmerman’s violent death has produced a life-quality-impacting anxiety from which they and their families cannot be spared, but which over time will wane.
Nine year-old Christina Taylor Green was born on September 11, 2001. Some pundits have described her life as “bookended by tragedy,” but for her parents, Christina’s too-brief years must seem like the fast fanning-through of a treasured book, one they had anticipated reading at a leisurely and pleasant pace, only to have it cruelly snapped shut before their eyes. Their pain is terrible to see, worse to contemplate. Having lost their beloved daughter in this random, unimaginable fashion, will they ever take innocent leave of their young son? Will they be able to drop him off for soccer practice or at a friend's house without holding their breath until he safely returns home?
And at this moment, Gabrielle Giffords–a pretty, curious, energetic woman who was struck down while attempting to be an accessible and authentic representatives is probably sleeping, healing, and restoring. Giffords’ body has much healing and restoration to undertake. The body seeks homeostasis, and Giffords’ body, having survived as grave a wound as any the body may encounter, is looking for ways to come back. Neurological pathways are forging new connections; traumatized areas are slowly draining of the protective fluids that immediately rush to injured sites; equilibrium is being sought after on a cellular level.
Giffords is no more aware of that process than the rest of us would be on any given day. But we are told she is responsive to simple instructions, and that she has recognized her husband, and so she is probably aware, on some level, of rhythmic monitors, snatches of conversations, a tender touch. She may be hearing whispered words of love, urges to fight for her life. Perhaps she is hearing–in a way we cannot imagine–the prayers of so many who are holding her in their hearts and minds. Perhaps Ms. Giffords is feeling fearful, anxious of the unknown path onto which she and her family have been involuntarily thrust. If so, this might be–against all instincts–the rare instance where such feelings are a good and a gift; an indication of reasonable function, even if the function is anxiety, in this one case might be a paradoxical sign of hope in a world full of mysteries. A world which, despite all of our knowledge, we really do not understand all that well, and can never correctly predict.
Let us pray for Gabrielle Giffords, and for her families, and the families of all of a disturbed young man’s dead. Let us pray for healing, restoration, a lessening of anxiety, a strengthening of trust.
And let us pray that neither Ms. Giffords, or her family, or the brother of Christina Taylor Green, or the mother of Gabriel Zimmerman ever have to read that their pain, their grief, their loss has been reduced to something as cynical and craven and ultimately banal as “[Democrats] need to deftly pin this on the tea partiers . . .Just like the Clinton White House deftly pinned the Oklahoma City bombing on the militia and anti-government people.”
No, let them never, never read that, nor hear it spewed from a monitor.
Those cold words, uttered by operatives in marble halls, are for the rest of us to be anxious about.
Elizabeth Scalia is the Managing Editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos and blogs as The Anchoress. Her previous articles for "On the Square" can be found here