When Rep. Gabby Giffords walked into the Congressional chambers for the debt ceiling vote, I joined the rest of America in an emotional mix of tearful exhilaration. Having built up a surfeit of cynicism and bitterness, her presence changed the moment.
Seeing her standing with a full head of hair; her intelligent gaze acknowledging members of congress as the entire chamber rose and applauded brought back the horrifying images of that January day with the downed bodies in the Arizona parking lot. We recalled the tragic death of a young girl, the heroism of an American who gave his life to protect others, and the absolute senselessness of the violence. We recalled too the days that followed: the ugly finger pointing, the cross-hairs, and the overheated and violent rhetoric of our public debate which was fortunately redeemed by one of the greatest speeches our President has given during his time in office.
Since that time, the American public has periodically dipped into Rep. Gifford's progress. We prayed for her during her successful (almost miraculous) surgery, and eagerly read the news as she learned to smile, and speak, and went to see her husband's liftoff on the last voyage of space shuttle. For the last eight months, Rep. Giffords has been a through-line -- a cord of inspiration and endurance in a time of discord and uncertainty. When she walked into Congress, determined to cast her vote, she offered what we most need as Americans right now -- hope.
Americans have lost a lot of faith in our government in the last months. For some, it is because they don't trust government and want less of it; for others, it is because the government has not fulfilled its role to provide for basic dignity and justice for the most vulnerable. Progressives and conservatives have both been virulently partisan in our recent debt ceiling debate; feeling further alienated from one another and the country that we all say we love. And then in walks Gabby Giffords, who after all she has been through came to Washington because she believed that this vote was too important to miss.
Rep. Giffords was shot while fulfilling her duty as an elected government official -- meeting with her constituency so that she could better represent them. The hope that Gabrielle Giffords represents is not reflected in her politics or the way she voted. She gives us hope because her presence in the chamber reminds us that the democratic process has an intrinsic value that is worth giving our life to secure. In the face of terrorists and crazies who are taking to guns in a stated effort to circumvent or undermine democracy -- we had a testimony of a life deeply committed to the democratic ideal.
Thank you Rep. Giffords for reminding us of the real sacrifices of democracy. If you can maintain faith in our system of government, then hopefully the rest of America can join you.
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