01/24/2011 01:31 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Rep. Giffords Opened Her Eyes - Have Members of Congress? - Lessons From Tucson - Media Trust

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords opened her eyes. Have members of Congress? Have Americans? Have you?

Monet painted "Water Lilies" with diffused colors because he had developed cataracts and his vision was blurred.

What colors your perception of others? Do you see clearly through the prism of your own eyes? Or do you make judgements based on influencers and biases and stay confined within your familiar comfort zone? Below is a quiz to test your vision and open-mindedness, using Tucson as an example.

Following the University of Arizona memorial service, several news commentators confounded me. Their remarks were off the reservation, so to speak. One opined that Dr. Carlos Gonzales, who was asked to give a traditional Native American opening blessing at the memorial, was "peculiar." Some might think unfamiliar traditions at St. Albans School and the University of Virginia are "peculiar."

Seeing Patricia Maisch, 61, on TV, with her crown of white hair, I marveled how she seized the gunman's second clip of ammunition and knelt on his ankles. Then, realizing one of the men holding him down was bleeding, she called for a replacement and went into the store to get paper towels to make a compress. Looking at this brave, middle-aged hero, I recalled a commentator, during the last election, who asked if this country wanted to actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis? Pity his mother and new, fourth, 25-years-younger wife. He must have a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, with medical training, on his staff and speed dial, in case he has another heart incident. Needless to say, on the Adonis scale, he has the self-admitted face and figure for radio.

Prejudice and ignorance may be amusing -- and harmful. My coat buttons unintentionally once served as a Rorschach test. Some saw the button design as the peace symbol. While others, looking at the same design, saw the Mercedes Benz symbol. A colleague refused to go out with a great guy, because she thought he wore funny shoes. His funny shoes were Top-siders, which every Preppy knows were originally designed for boating, with signature non-slip soles.

The objective of the Tucson convocation -- and President Obama's speech -- was to unite everyone, celebrate diversity and honor the deceased and the wounded. The mission was also to recognize the citizen heroes, whose selfless courage protected and saved the victims. "Together We Thrive" was a theme to comfort the grieving community and country and look forward.

In an emergency, such as Tucson and New York on 9/11, the victim's and the savior's politics, sex, sexual orientation, age, race, religion, education, geography, income and ethnicity don't matter. Yet, some critics insist they can only see differences and persist in creating and perpetuating negative stereotypes and labels.

Each of the funerals was distinctive and arranged by the families to reflect the person's and families' wishes and proud heritage. "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" welcomed the 2,000 guests to young Christina-Taylor Green's service. Her coffin was wheeled from the church to traditional Irish funeral mournful bagpipes. Judge John M. Roll's Irish Catholic service concluded with a rendition of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling."


Did you view the memorial service at the University of Arizona? What did you see?

1. Dr. Carlos Gonzales delivered a traditional Native American blessing. He

a.. is associate professor of family medicine at the U. AZ College of Medicine
b. is fifth-generation Pascua Yaqui Indian
c. is father of a son serving in Afghanistan
d. is peculiar

2. Daniel Hernandez, Jr.

a. is a hero who is credited with saving Rep. Gifford's life
b. is a 20-year-old U. AZ student and intern in Rep. Gifford's office
c. is a gay Hispanic
d. is a certified nurses' assistant in first aid

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is a remarkable woman. She is the first woman chair of the House Space and Aeronautical subcommittee. The youngest woman elected to the AZ State Senate at 32, in 2002, she is the third woman elected to Congress from AZ and the state's first Jewish Congresswoman. Giffords is the only U.S. Rep. with an active duty military spouse. She earned a double major in Latin American studies and sociology at Scripps College and was a Fulbright scholar in Mexico. After earning graduate degree in regional planning at Cornell, she planned to embark on a big-city career in New York City. But her ailing father asked her to return home to head the family business, at 27. When they sold the business, she began her career in public service.


Romance is the popular media theme. TV shows and magazines feature bachelors and bachelorettes desperately seeking millionaire and move star mates. History has proven that marriage to a real prince can be a royal pain. But the Tucson incident demonstrates that there are lifelong loving couples totally devoted to each other. Two husbands risked their lives to protect their wives.

Dorwan Stoddard, 76-year-old retired construction worker, jumped on top of his wife of 15 years, to protect her and saved her life. The sixth-grade sweethearts reunited later in life in their hometown. Each had been widowed after 40-year marriages in Oregon and Washington. The couple volunteered to run their church's benevolence ministry. At the end of Stoddard's memorial service, his wife, Mavy, said "He loved me and spoiled me rotten. He put me in fairy land and made me the princess. We were married 15 joyful years. He died for me and I must live for him." Disney couldn't script a more romantic love story for the Princess franchise.

Dorothy Morris, 76, and George were high school sweethearts, married for more than 50 years. The retired Marine pilot tried to get on top of her on the ground but couldn't save her. He suffered two gunshot wounds and is still hospitalized.

Gabe Zimmerman 30, was Rep. Gifford's community outreach director. He had earned his bachelor's degree in sociology and master's of social work. He and his fiance, Kelly O'Brien, a nurse, were planning an April 2012 wedding.

Rep. Giffords and Cmdr. Mark Kelly met on a trip to China in 2003 with the National Committee on US-China Relations. Surmounting a long-distance relationship -- with his life in Houston and her life in Tucson and Washington, DC -- they married in 2007. A veteran of three space flights, he inscribed in her wedding ring: "You are the closest to heaven that I've ever been." He is scheduled to command space shuttle Endeavor on April 19. Kelly is the son of one of New Jersey's first female police officers. His twin brother is also an astronaut, currently on board the International Space Station.

These love stories are for real -- not manufactured for reel TV entertainment.


1. Media should confirm death notice with multiple sources and inform family, before issuing public announcement. In Journalism School, the mantra was: "Get it first. But first get it right." Kelly said midway in flight to Tucson, he saw a TV report that his wife had died. NPR later apologized for the premature bulletin that she had died, when in fact she was in surgery. The false announcement was immediately picked up by other news outlets. A grave error, indeed.

2. It is important to learn emergency first aid.

3. Loving couples are everywhere.

4. Practice the Golden Rule. Respect everyone.

People would see more commonalities than differences, if they got to know each other before making judgements. The Native American doctor ended his invocation with a blessing for his son, who is serving in Afghanistan. The commentator who thought the doctor was "peculiar" could have empathized with his parental concern, considering his own son committed suicide at 29. Mental illness, parental responsibility and medical treatment are topics of debate. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's son has schizophrenia. He was committed to a state mental hospital more than 20 years ago, after being declared criminally insane for the 1989 kidnapping and rape of a woman. This information is all on the public record. Sharing common life experiences could unite more people and create better understanding and respect of each other, for the public good.


Why can't members of Congress play ball with each other -- like the Congressional women's softball team? The women's team is bipartisan. The congressmen play party against party. May I suggest lottery seating in Congress, thereby challenging elected members to interact and really get to know each other, to shape public debate and civil discourse?

Rep. Giffords has opened her eyes. What is your vision for America's future to raise our sights and reach Christina's expectations?

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