By John Gladden
Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords — unknown to most Americans until she was gravely wounded in a Jan. 8 mass shooting outside a Tucson grocery — has been described by colleagues as a moderate, as one who seeks the middle road in politics in hope of finding consensus and forward momentum.
Ironic, because that’s the perspective we need most following this horrific event and the rhetorical finger-pointing that has followed.
Many have fallen into their familiar camps on the subject of guns. Yet, this tragedy isn’t so much about constitutional gun ownership as it is about the question of whether there are ways to keep powerful weapons out of the hands of a person who may have serious mental illness. There are no easy answers, but there’s a middle ground that may be grounds for calm discussion.
We ask how “the system” or society or teachers or law enforcement or military recruiters failed to intervene in the life of a young man whose mental state seemed to crumble before their eyes. A good question we should ask ourselves. What young person can you think of who may be in need of caring help?
And we can thank God for all those police, social workers, neighbors, family members, teachers, clergy, youth leaders and others who already are doing that. We each have to do what we can do.
Perhaps most divisive of all has been the question of civility in society and politics. There is not a simple, connect-the-dots, correlation-equals-causation relationship between words and actions. Yet, words do hurt. Violent images in public or private language are unnecessary, even when they don’t inspire violence.
If a child drew a picture of another student with what appeared to be crosshairs imposed over the classmate’s home or face, it would not go unnoticed. Nor would a child who consistently used metaphors like “take them out” or “blow it up” or “reload” or “kill.”
Perhaps politicians, public figures, and you and I, should consider governing our tongues the same way we expect those in our public classrooms to do. That isn’t right or left, conservative or liberal. It’s being intentional about using language that shows we care about one another, even when we disagree.
Before the Tucson shootings, at the convening of the new Congress, members of the House of Representatives read aloud the U.S. Constitution. In fact, Giffords read the text of the First Amendment.
It was a good idea. In fact, I wish Congress hadn’t stopped there.
The anti-tax, no-compromise mood in Columbus, in Washington, and around the country — coupled with my recent reading of David McCullough’s Pulitzer-winning biography of John Adams — has pieces of the Declaration of Independence rattling around in my head lately.
None more so than author Thomas Jefferson’s stirring final line: “We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
I wish those words could have been read in Congress and permitted to echo from the walls of the House chamber and in the thoughts of those assembled there.
I wonder if we, or our leaders, would write those words today, or if we are capable of living them out. Do we behave as if our lives depend on one another? Are we willing to pledge our fortunes to a greater good? Do we hold honor more sacred than power?
On Friday morning, I was standing at the kitchen window, as I so often do, eating a piece of toast piled high with black raspberry jam, as I so often do. I stared through the softly falling snow, watching the birdfeeder, and wondering how to end this column. After all, who knows where the events of the past two weeks will end?
There’s a cycle at the birdfeeder that nature-watchers will recognize. Everyone is eating happily when the arrival of a bully shatters the calm. With a cry like a hawk, a blue jay lands in the middle of the feeder in a cloud of sunflower seeds. All the other birds scatter.
Well, not all. The little black-capped chickadees flew off. The cardinals retreated to a safe distance in a nearby tree. But not the mourning doves. There were two in the feeder when the blue jay crashed the breakfast buffet and they held their ground. I have seen this many times.
These birds named for their plaintive cry, these birds that saw the closest members of their family — passenger pigeons — hunted to extinction. These mourning doves that are the most popular game birds in Ohio, yet often used as symbols of peace. Steadfast, patient, calm. They were not moved by fear.
After the week that was, I found unexpected comfort in that. And then I ate another piece of toast and jam.
Contact John Gladden at firstname.lastname@example.org.