In the early spring of 2011, I took a trip to Washington D.C. with my daughter’s first grade class, and we somehow scored a tour of the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill. When we happened upon the shut door Gabrielle Giffords’ office, all of the chaperones instinctively hushed the kids, and more than a few of us shed silent tears.
Just weeks prior, Giffords, then a congresswoman representing Arizona, had been shot in the head at a political gathering where six people were killed and twelve others, not including Giffords, were wounded.
I’ve thought a lot about those sad, strange moments this week as the media fixates on Giffords’ choice of activity to mark the third anniversary of the shooting. I couldn’t make sense of the massacre, and I certainly didn’t know how to explain it to 28 six-year-olds, stupefied by the suddenly stricken grown-ups.
Yesterday, I watched footage of Giffords jumping out of a plane with my daughter, now in fourth grade (who, by the way, has no recollection of that somber moment of silence outside of Giffords’ office).
Gearing up to air the jump, Savannah Guthrie of ABC’s Today Show said, “Gabby Giffords is going to do something that is incredibly courageous and inspiring and a little bit surprising — she's going to sky-dive here in Arizona to commemorate the three-year anniversary and all of the progress that she’s made.”
Giffords outlined that progress in a New York Times Op-Ed on Wednesday. She writes, “Many may look at me and see mostly what I have lost. I struggle to speak, my eyesight’s not great, my right arm and leg are paralyzed, and I left a job I loved representing southern Arizona in Congress. But three years ago, dispatched to an almost certain death by an assassin’s bullet, I was allowed the opportunity for a new life.”
It seems nearly impossible, especially for those of us that have never experienced such anguish, that human nature could be so buoyant. According to a Science Daily article about trauma and resilience among Holocaust survivors, however, "a growing body of evidence suggests that trauma can have positive outcomes as well. Some survivors of traumatic events develop new priorities, closer relationships, an increased appreciation of life, a greater sense of personal strength, and experience heightened spirituality.”
Giffords is living proof.
Have you experienced, or even witnessed secondhand, such remarkable endurance of spirit? Tell us in the comments or in a blog post.