Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Thank You, Gabby Giffords
It has been said that the return of Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords to Washington, D.C., for the first time in seven months was a soothing “emotional tonic” (as Andrea Mitchell put it on MSNBC Tuesday morning) after a contentious debate. One that only hours before had the vice president, among others, referring to the “tea party” as acting like “terrorists.” The moment was clearly much more significant than a member merely casting a vote. But it wasn’t merely a feel-good moment either.
Watching Gabby Giffords Monday evening on the House floor for the first time since she was shot in the head on January 8, she had to be overwhelmed as she returned to vote for the debt-ceiling deal. And yet, she seemed to be greeting each member who approached her as an individual, receiving him or her as a brother or sister. Knowing all she has been through, the sacrifices she has made for public service, she could have been easily excused if she walked in and out and never said a word. But she was generous.
I almost wrote, “politics aside.” But what is politics if it is not rooted in the good of men? It actually was the perfect underscore to the roller coaster ride of the last few weeks. Not because there were tears in eyes. But because she reminded us why the Capitol dome is a civic beacon: Because it stands as a our national service station, where we send men and women to be good stewards of our laws and economy, always respecting and facilitating freedom.
That’s the goal, anyway. It’s quite the mess, quite the bureaucratic maze, quite the competition of interests and desires and failings. Humility helps. And, whatever else people will discuss about politics and power and wins and losses in respect to this debt-ceiling debate, there was humility in that moment with Giffords Monday night. While we may not often think about it this way, humility is the key to true power. The power that really counts.
That won’t “Cut, Cap, and Balance” or get your side a win or reelection, or whatever else are your political goals. But good luck having any real success without it. Where we often go wrong in politics and in life, being Catholics in name only, might just have something to do with our daily and moment-by-moment relationship to the h-word.
It didn’t take long for speculation to begin about whether or not Giffords will run for reelection and all those practical political questions. But I’m still stuck on the gift she gave. If we all approach one another as she approached members Monday, every day, fully present and fully grateful, we’ll be respecting the dignity of our human lives. The fruits of that simple yet difficult act, as overwhelmed and overloaded as we are, may be a culture changer. If we get that right, we’re less likely to miss our purpose and call. We’re more likely to be inspired by one another, seeing God’s presence in even the most routine and mundane of exchanges or the challenges that come in our interactions with each other.
If each one of us is humble and open to Him, it can be infectious. It will be reflected in our thoughts and words, in those passing connections offline and on that often appear meaningless in our all-too-frazzled lives. They won’t all be historic moments, but they all have the power to change the course of the history of our lives and the lives of our brothers and sisters.
When you feel too overwhelmed to deal with the challenges of life today, think of Giffords – think of that scene on the House floor Monday night. I know I will.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist. She speaks frequently on faith and public life.
at 4:40 PM