part of something greater

Between the Dark and the Light. Copyright 2010 Robin L. Chandler

The Rabbi’s words from Psalm 23 hang in the stillness of the First Congregational Church.  Her clear strong soprano sings “yeah that I walk through the valley of death, I shall fear no evil, for you are with me.”  Some two hundred voices join her singing the prayer; my voice cracks a little, overcome with feelings I didn’t realize were buried.  On January 13, I attended the “American Unity Town Hall” in Santa Cruz hosted by the Honorable Sam Farr seventeen term Member of Congress from 17th Congressional District of California.  The church’s pastor opened the meeting with the words “I need to be with a group of people tonight for healing and growth.”  Congressman Farr followed reflecting on Congresswoman Gabriele Giffords “for all the wrong reasons, the world is now aware of how special you are” and “our children are being raised on hate talk…..a democracy based on negative talk cannot survive.”

A community gathered that night in an ecumenical setting to seek meaning from tragedy and reaffirm belief in our republic’s democratic process.  Wendall Berry wrote in The Way of Ignorance “our religious principles are justice, mercy, peaceableness, and loving kindness toward fellow humans and the gifts of nature, as our political principles are freedom confirmed in law, honesty, and public accountability.  These are not the principles of a party. These are our free inheritance as human beings and citizens living under the Constitution of the United States.”

The senseless shooting of Congreswoman Giffords and the deaths of six others in Tucson are a tragedy;  the impact of that moment resonates in Santa Cruz in many ways.  We lost Gabe Zimmerman, Director of Community Outreach for Congresswoman Giffords; he was a University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) 2002 graduate in Sociology.  UCSC Professor Paul Lubek said “Gabe fulfilled the ideals of the University….he engaged in public service to perform social justice.” A few days after we absorbed the events in Tucson,  campus administration announced the threat of a possible active shooter at UCSC on January 18.  Living with guns and acquiring the skills to survive an active shooter attack are sadly becoming the norm, and I ask: was this the intended outcome of our Constitution’s Second Amendment the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed?  Sometimes it feels like Frederick Jackson Turner ‘s historical thesis has been revised:  the American Frontier was closed, but now it’s officially reopened! Life is mimicking the final scenes from Gunfight at the OK Corralthe great vendetta myth of the American West. Yeah, that was in Tombstone….Arizona. Irony or foreshadowing?

In the last week my healing has begun, but as January – the gateway to the new year —  closes I wonder what the rest of the year will bring.  Ever hopeful, I walk through the doorway inspired to climb the mountains ahead and committed to being a better listener  and more attuned to sufferings around me.  Speaking at the Memorial Service in Tucson, President Obama quoted from the Book of Job “I looked for light and found darkness” and he asked us all  “to expand our moral imaginations” and “to talk with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.” Because “how we treat one another is entirely up to us” and  “the forces that divide us are not as strong as the forces that unite us.”  And in his State of the Union address, he said “amid all the noise and passion and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we came from, each of us is part of something greater – something more consequential than party or political preference…..we are still bound together as a people [and] what we can do  – what America does better than anyone else – is spark the creativity and imagination of our people…..we do big things.” We can climb the mountains ahead of us.

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