thrive* \ˈthrīv\ verb
1. To make steady progress; prosper.
2. To grow vigorously; flourish
*The title of tonight’s memorial was “Together We Thrive: Tucson & America”
I was there tonight in Tucson. I stood in line with the thousands to be able to participate in the memorial for the victims of Saturday’s tragic shooting, to be able to pray for healing of those who are still in the hospital and for all those impacted by this tragedy.
I went because I wanted to stand up with my community and remember those we have lost. I went because I wanted to pray for the healing of those who suffer. I went because I wanted to hear what our leaders had to say.
As a college instructor, I have decided to spend some of my rhetoric class time examining and discussing texts about the shooting. It not only feels relevant to talk about words and their meaning at times like this, it feels necessary to give students a space in which they can wrestle with their feelings about an act of violence taking place in their adopted town, at a grocery store that could be their grocery store.
As we discuss in class, the words we say and the way that we say them matters. We each need to take responsibility for our own words and we need to call those we listen to, particularly our media and our political leaders, to be responsible for theirs and to speak in a way that invites rather than discourages open and thoughtful conversation. Obama said it the best last night when he said: “It’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.”
One of the moments I valued most about tonight was when President Obama spoke about the importance of not making this an opportunity to hate one another. He said: “But what we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. That we cannot do. That we cannot do.”
I myself am guilty of this. When 19 people, including a congresswoman I deeply respect, were shot on Saturday, I immediately thought of the rhetoric surrounding her reelection campaign. I thought of Jesse Kelly and his screaming campaign strategies. I thought of the tea party and how often their language includes words that insinuate violence, and how whether these words are figurative or literal is often hard to tell. And on top of the enormous sadness I felt, I became really angry.
We need to listen critically to all points of view we are exposed to. But being angry and blaming those who invoke this kind of language is not ultimately the solution. The solution is not to return anger with anger, hate with hate. It seems to me that the only real solution is to move towards a society in which kindness, respect and empathy are woven into the fabric of our institutions, our neighborhoods, our daily lives. And while I do think it is important to hold our leaders and media personalities accountable for their language and encourage speech that is inclusive to understand different points of view (as Obama talked about when he emphasized the need for civil discourse), it seems to me that the most important step that each of us can take individually is to model in our day to day lives what we want our world to look like.
Meaning: we choose to be kind, to be empathetic, to be respectful, to be generous. We weigh carefully the words we use when we speak to one another. This sounds simple, but I believe it is one of most difficult things we can commit ourselves to doing. I think of how many times per day I allow myself to become annoyed with other people: because they are not moving quick enough, because they should have used their blinker, because they are being too loud. Sometimes I merely note this to myself, but sometimes this annoyance comes out in my speech or my body language, to my perceived offenders or to other people.
One of the things I have heard multiple people say about Gabby is that she is someone who genuinely loves people, someone who tries to find the good in each person she meets.
Our responsibility is not only to be kind to the people we know and love (and let’s be honest, we aren’t always even able to muster that), our responsibility is to be kind and loving to people we don’t know and yes, to people that to us, for whatever reason, feel the hardest to love.
Underneath vitriolic political rhetoric, underneath cuts to mental healthcare, underneath lax gun control laws—all of which are valid and important things to discuss and sort through together—is a society has become sick from a severe lack of connection. We don’t realize how much we need each other or how our choices and interactions impact each other. We don’t try to understand each other. We don’t love each other in the way that we need to love and be loved. This denial of our interconnectedness is a wound we all carry and it is something that we can begin to change with every interaction we have.
Tonight, as President Obama shared stories about each of the victims, we laughed and smiled and cried as we, as a community, celebrated their lives and, in turn, grieved for their loss. When the President told us that Gabby Giffords had opened her eyes for the first time, the stadium erupted in joy, people jumping out of their seats, tears streaming down cheeks.
I think of a young man I saw at the University Medical Center on Sunday night who had a piece of fabric safety pinned to the back of his hoodie with these words: Love is stronger.
Love is stronger.
The actions we take tomorrow, next month, next year will not undo the tragedy that has been inflicted on these individual souls, on their families, on our community and our nation. There will be many more tears. There will be years of recovery and struggle. There will be much sorrow and much need. And, by saying what I say here, I in no way mean to minimize the gravity and sadness that permeates all of this.
But, it seems to me that loving each other better, caring about each other more is the only answer. This will come out not only in our daily interactions but in the decisions we make collectively as a community and as a nation. I believe this kind of love is possible. I believe in its possibility because I have known too many stories, seen too many miracles, known too many people who demonstrate in their own way the decency and compassion and beauty and endurance of the human spirit.
For now, we can pray for the strength to love each other and that the ways we can do so will be shown to us all.