Reflections On The Unspeakable Events Of January 8, 2011

For almost a week now, I have wrestled with the words to say in response to the heinous and unconscionable actions of last Saturday. I have thought at great lengths about not only what might be done or said in response to the events in general, but about what I, myself, might lend to such healing efforts. What might I be able to offer to the mending and response to such a tragedy? I am but a mere 21 years old. I have only served, but one semester, as an intern for Congresswoman Giffords. I could, at this point, go down a long list of things that would highlight my age and inexperience in terms of life, indicating me unfit to share words on the matter. But, that would do nothing to serve my purpose here.

Many live their lives without ever having to face such tragedy as what countless people have experienced and are processing right now. There is nothing that anyone can say that will lend reason or rationality to the motivations or actions of the shooter last Saturday. To attempt to do so is folly. Life is fraught with challenges and obstacles, the most burdensome and personally devastating we, as a community, are going through right now.

Just over a month ago, I sat at a table with my fellow interns, some staff members, and Congresswoman Giffords herself. It was a lunch to thank us interns for our service throughout the semester. I was only fortunate enough to share a single semester internship with Congresswoman Giffords and her office, but that semester is a treasure that I will hold dear for the rest of my life – it was so before the events of this past weekend. We all shared moments of joy and education throughout the lunch. We talked about everything from her political stances to our future life plans.

Representative Giffords surrounds herself with a staff that shares her unique qualities of genuineness, compassion, and dedication to the betterment of others. Gabe Zimmerman was the absolute embodiment of these qualities. When attempting to convey what a beautiful person I felt Gabe to be, I find myself qualifying each characteristic of his as “overly-X” or “overly-Y.” He was overly-compassionate, overly-genuine, overly-intelligent. Gabe was someone who always took time to better those around him, even if it was not convenient or he was busy. I remember having both silly and complex questions at times and when I came for aid he would spin his chair in his office to face me and, with a Gabe smile, ask me what was up or how he could help. Often he would simply invite me in and walk me through researching a policy question or governmental agency’s petition process, etc. He would guarantee that I not only knew the answer to the question for the constituent, but that I understood it. My fellow interns and I affectionately deemed Gabe the “Constituent Whisperer.”  In public office and government, there are sometimes constituents who call and become too much to handle for a volunteer intern and need a more experienced staffer, that is where Gabe often came in. Gabe’s natural senses of calmness, empathy, and intelligence combined with his experience  made him absolutely incredible at appeasing and taming some rowdy, angry, or belligerent callers. To see him do so was inspiring.

When I first started, I called him “Mr. Zimmerman.” One day, he simply said, “Please, just Gabe.” I feel like that says so much about him. He was “just Gabe.” He was so very kind and endearing to interns, which is not so easy to do when there are perpetual gaggles of them each and every semester, all new, all inexperienced, all needing guidance and training. I am saddened that Gabe has been taken from this Earth way before we got to see the amazing potential he had come into full bloom. He always seemed to be doing what he  loved – helping other people. The office never appeared as work to Gabe, it just seemed like fun to him, as if it was just what he did or who he was. There are a great many things I have learned from Gabe in such a short amount of time. It only goes to show just how exceptional of a person he was.

Congresswoman Giffords is the ideal United States Congressional Representative. She is the exact sort of person that the founding fathers envisioned as such when they designed our government to be representative of the people. Her dedication to this process is just one of the many things that made her so impressive and endearing to so many, not just myself. She has a certain unparalleled quality of genuineness that I have never experienced. She is not a political facade. She is not a cardboard cutout pushing policies. She is our neighbor. She is our friend. She is our leader.

When I first began interning, I was asked to bring a pitcher of water into her, some staff, and others during a meeting. I struggled to open the door. Once I finally had it open, with a tray topped with a pitch of water and glasses in my hands, I looked up only to see the congresswoman already out of her chair, across the room, and smiling at me eager to help me. Meanwhile, her guests were all still seated and waiting. She stopped the meeting to help her new intern, to introduce herself to her new intern, to thank her new intern. That sort of leader, that sort of genuineness is amiss from not only close to everyone nowadays, but our political leaders, in particular. Similarly, as Gabe was “just Gabe,” Congresswoman Giffords was, and still is, “just Gabby.”

I am torn with sadness and extreme happiness at the same time. I am ecstatic that the Congresswoman Giffords continues to improve so rapidly. I mourn the loss and pain inflicted on those that I have come to care for.

I am a man of the pen. There have always been words to fall back on, to retreat to for solace or understanding in times of need. It was a harsh realization this past week when processing this devastating act of violence, that there are no words, no thoughts, no famous mind to appeal to. However, I did find this:

Sorrow makes us all children again – destroys all differences of intellect.  The wisest know nothing.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I feel it important to remember that as we process and heal from this unspeakable act of violence, that we will never be the same, nor should we try to be. Our lives are forever altered.

As one of my friends says regularly, like a mantra, “Positivity = Progress.” In this time of pain, grief, and anger, we must remember that as each day comes to pass, so does the rawness of our recent tragedy. We will never again be the same as we were before this event, but we can choose to refuse and reject negativity. We can choose to see a positive future. We can choose to work to ensure that this never happens again. We can choose to make proud those which we love who have been either taken or hurt by the actions of a madman last Saturday.

I choose to reject hatred.

I choose to accept compassion.

I choose to reject violence.

I choose to accept respect.

I choose to reject malevolence.

I choose to accept the power to work towards the  future I want to be so, with the knowledge of the past.


9 Responses to “Reflections On The Unspeakable Events Of January 8, 2011”
  1. This is great. I hope she makes a full recovery, and all the victims are in my thoughts and prayers. Thank you for sending a positive message of hope.

  2. Joni Jones says:

    This is beautiful. Gabe would so love how you describe his office and the people with whom you work. I think Gabe learned from interns like you almost as much as he taught. Thanks for exoressing it so eloquently.

  3. Ruth Urban says:

    This is so beautifully written. It was shared with me by your proud mom, and I am so glad she did. I love what you had to say as a tribute to Gabby and Gabe and how hopeful your words are for our country. Thank you for your inspiring words and thoughts!

  4. monica martinez simmons says:

    Through this horrific event and its aftermath, your thoughtful reflection and eloquent message is heartfelt and healing. You give all of us a reason to remain hopeful and grateful for one another. There is so much good in this world – Gabby and Gabe are perfect examples. YOU are a perfect example. Stay focused on what is good… stay positive for all of us, Tyler. ~Monica Martinez Simmons

    • Monica,
      Thank you very much. With each day that passes, it becomes easier. I know that Gabby, Gabe, and the others would only want us to push forward and continue helping others with nothing but the utmost dedication and diligence.


  5. Aj says:

    Very well written Tyler!

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