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Holding Tucson in My Heart Today

“Shine from the Valley,” Tucson musician Mitzi Cowell’s song written in response to the events of January 8, 2011

Yesterday I started reading A Safeway in Arizona without even realizing that the anniversary of that tragic day in Tucson was upon us. I was shopping at a Safeway in Alameda, CA when I heard about it. My son called and said he had heard on the radio that someone in Congress had been shot in Tucson and I knew it was Gabby. My knees got weak and I had to leave the store. I managed to get to the car before I started crying. On the radio, initial (erroneous) reports were that the shootings had happened in front of Whole Foods and that Gabby might be dead.

I immediately thought of the Whole Foods on Speedway, a few blocks from my friend M’s house. M used to be a constant presence at Gabby’s “Congress on your Corner” events, where she would yell at Gabby for her stance on medical marijuana. Once I got home, it still took me quite a while to determine that it had actually taken place in north Tucson and that M had not been there and was alive, was safe. I imagine so many other people must have had these same fears, given that Gabby was so accessible and everyone seemed to know her. And that once we confirmed that our friends or family were safe, we were forced to cope with the devastating news that Gabby had been shot in the head and many others had been killed or gravely wounded. To this day, all I need to see is a photo of Gabby or Mark Kelly and I weep. It’s a switch that I cannot turn off, even a year later.

I never met Gabby during the nearly 10 years that we lived in Tucson. I don’t care for her politics; she is usually on the wrong side of issues that I care about. But I have tremendous respect for her courage and the fact that she continued to do business as usual in an environment that had become stifled by hate. We left Tucson less than a year before the shootings. As that day unfolded on CNN and Facebook and in phone calls with my friends in Tucson, it seemed like a nightmare – one that I had had before. It all had this awful feeling of inevitability. It felt like we knew this could happen and yet we had not protected Gabby.

Luckily, Gabby is incredibly strong and miraculously alive and she has forced us all to try harder. I know that Tucson is proud of her and yet still hurting today. I send you all my love.


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