On Jan. 8, just hours before hearing of the shooting of a congresswoman and others in Arizona, I was reading this tidbit from The Writer’s Almanac, a daily bit of joy that appears in my e-mail box every day courtesy of Garrison Keillor:
“ … [I]n this [state of the union] speech, which he gave 221 years ago today, George Washington talked about the dilemma of protecting the borders, about the need for immigration reform, about how important it was for the nation to support scientific development, and about setting up national higher education. Washington ended his speech with a plea that Congress cooperate with him for the good of the American people.”
So maybe it isn’t so much that the rhetoric today is dialed up, but that we just have way more places to express it, and with immediacy. And so the information, and misinformation, spreads so rapidly that I find myself in a café where a young male employee asks his co-worker if she’s heard about Sarah Palin assassinating people. He went on to explain the story, backing it up with what he thought were facts.
Wow. Where to go with that. Let me start with this -- I agree with Palin on virtually nothing in the political arena. I agree with Karl Rove on virtually nothing except that Palin doesn’t have the “gravitas” to lead this country. That said, the response of too many left-leaning folks to this horrific shooting has been to further their own ego-fueled agendas; by natural extension, I suppose, we now have people from the right chiming in from that self-serving place.
I am reminded of a powerful anecdote author and spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson relates in her 1993 classic bestseller, A Return to Love. She tells of being at a cocktail party and engaging in a heated debate about politics and then having what she calls a “waking dream” in which she hears a voice telling her that in the cosmic roll call, she is a hawk and not a dove. She becomes incensed.
“You’re at war with Ronald Reagan, Caspar Weinberger, the CIA, in fact the entire American defense establishment,” the voice says to her. “No, I’m sorry. You’re definitely a hawk.”
Williamson realizes the voice is right.
“I had just as many missiles in my head as Ronald Reagan had in his,” she writes. “I thought it was wrong for him to judge communists, but I thought it was okay for me to judge him. Why? Because I was right, of course! I spent years as an angry left-winger before I realized that an angry generation can’t bring peace. Everything we do is infused with the energy with which we do it … What the ego doesn’t want us to see is that the guns we need to get rid of first are the guns in our own heads.”
Like author Eckhart Tolle writes in A New Earth, “When you confuse the ego that you perceive in others with their identity, it is the work of your own ego that uses this misperception to strengthen itself through being right and therefore superior, and through reacting with condemnation, indignation, and often anger against the perceived enemy. All this is enormously satisfying to the ego.”
And that brings me back to now and the aftermath of the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and other Americans being shot in a horrific scene at a Safeway supermarket.
As an avid reader of the “Vows” column in The New York Times every Sunday -- it fascinates me to learn what brings people together, what attracted them, what sustains them -- it took a full day after Giffords was shot for me to recall she had been featured in one of my favorite ones when she married astronaut Mark Kelly in 2007. What had particularly struck me was that she had chosen a wake-up song for the launching of his shuttle mission on Discovery in 2006 – “Beautiful Day” by U2.
“When our relationship just kept getting deeper, I felt a huge sense of relief,” Giffords said in the piece written by Judith Anderson. “I had found someone like me. We’re both really curious. We’re focused on the same things.”
Lovely, I recall thinking.
And so it is with that context that I found myself pondering what I’d like to hear Giffords say should she blessedly make a full recovery from her critical brain injuries sustained at the hands of a gunman. Here’s what I came up with:
“Thank you for the abundant support and prayers at this challenging time. I felt buoyed with love and I know it helped my family and friends to feel that community and national support as well.
“My doctors tell me recovery will be slow and require patience and determination, but with the continued support of family and friends I am looking forward to forging on to do the work I was elected to do. Anyone who knows me is aware I welcome adventure in my life -- I am married to an astronaut, right? -- and I won’t be swayed from the work that is so meaningful to me.
“I am told that about 800 Republican and Democratic Congress members and spouses took part in a conference call for unity the day after the shooting and I am so heartened by that. I so appreciate Speaker John Boehner setting such a unifying tone in his new role at a time when it is sorely needed. The idea of something remotely positive coming from this life-altering day gives me hope and strength.
“Let me be really clear about my intent moving forward. I believe life needs to be lived fully and in order for that to happen, we must embrace openness. The rewards of that come with risk. I will not close myself off from life because one misguided soul wants us to be afraid. That doesn’t mean I will skirt common sense and put myself in recklessly vulnerable situations. But neither does it mean I will build a wall between myself and my constituents.
“Furthermore, I will not use this senseless tragedy to feed anyone’s political agenda. I am a centrist Democrat whose views are not dictated by my party but my evolving belief system. My views on gun control haven’t changed. My views on health care and immigration haven’t changed. Last year I expressed my distaste for the inflamed rhetoric in our political discourse, but I will not now point a blaming finger at anyone but the young man who pulled the trigger in an unspeakable act of violence.
“Like Speaker Boehner said, we’ve seen humanity at its worst here. There’s no reason to inflame the already overcharged political climate by tapping into our own egos in response. I leave you with a quote from a recently published book, Love for No Reason by Marci Shimoff: ‘The softest thing in the world is an open heart. The hardest thing in the world is a closed, constricted heart. The open heart welcomes everything and, in doing so, grows in power.’
“Let us seize our power in this way moving forward.”