For one childhood friend of mine, the connection to Tucson’s mass shooting last weekend is being a friend of Christina Taylor Green’s school teacher. For another, it was having regularly served soft-serve treats to Dorwan and Mavy Stoddard at the Dairy Queen where they have been customers for years.
My sister knows people in law enforcement who were called to the scene of the Jan. 8 shooting. She’s friends with someone who works for another federal judge in the same office as U.S. District Judge John M. Roll, one of the six murdered outside a Safeway on a sunny Saturday morning.
I visited that mall a half dozen times when I was home for Christmas. A cafe there is my new favorite place to cadge free Wi-Fi when I visit. The Safeway, Walgreens and Honey Baked Ham stores were all on my to-do list. And the church hosting the funerals of 9-year-old Christina and the judge has become Mom’s second parish, whose ministers visit weekly to bring her Communion. It’s where we slip her wheelchair into one of the rows reserved for the handicapped when I’m in town.
Tucson’s metro area population has more than doubled — to around a million people — since I moved away from there soon after graduating from the University of Arizona. But the web of connections I’ve encountered from everyone I have heard from since the shooting are those of a small town. Everyone knows someone involved that day. If they don’t, they’ve found a connection perhaps two or three steps removed.
This helps explain why 27,000 people went to the university’s McKale Center for the memorial service Jan. 12 and why millions more of us were glued to our televisions or internet connections around the world.
This was personal — even if only by second- or third-hand connection — to all Tucsonans, including those of us who haven’t lived there in decades. We needed to grieve together.
Of course, it was also gut-wrenching to people who’ve never set foot in Arizona. I think that’s because every one of us can see ourselves or a loved one in someone who was there that day.
That’s me running Saturday morning errands or taking a friend’s child to meet a politician. We like to think we’d react like Daniel Hernandez, the 20-year-old intern who helped save the life of his boss, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. We wonder if we’d have the presence of mind to take the risks Bill Badger and Patricia Maisch did, as the retirees helped prevent the gunman from shooting anyone else.
We marvel at the strength and dignity displayed by John and Roxanna Green as they faced TV cameras shortly after their daughter was killed. We weigh whether we could have reached out in shared grief, as the Greens did, to the husband of Bill Hileman, whose wife, Suzi, had taken Christina to meet her congresswoman and herself was shot three times.
Somehow it helps to find connections to people who were killed or hurt, to those who tried to help on the scene or to those whose jobs involve aiding the victims and figuring out the questions that linger.
Most days we function in our own little orbits, content to have minimal interactions with the wider world. Many seek out the community we lack in daily life by spending hours on Facebook, in online gaming or some other impersonal group. That may be enough most days.
But at times like this, it’s real people we need: to hug and cry with; to connect us, however tenuously, to the people we see suffering from such an outrageous event.
I was exceptionally proud of my hometown this week. It may be the home of a deranged killer. But it’s also the home of another million people, many of whom reached out to each other in kindness and sympathy. They filled an arena and chunk of a football stadium, taking all day to wait in line for a memorial service.
They lined the streets near the university and near churches before funerals, and they keep the lawn of University Medical Center covered in flowers and tributes to those recovering inside.
It’s where university students delayed for the start of classes organized ways for people to pay their respects with a bicycle ride and with a giant paper chain. It’s where the Teamsters Union bus drivers volunteered to drive shuttles to the memorial service without pay, because they know the city’s budget is in crisis.
More than anything, Tucsonans’ kind and thoughtful ways of responding as a community have helped soothe my own overwrought emotions this week. I can only hope it’s done the same for them.
Fyears is a writer and Tucson native who is well entrenched in the F-years of life (forties and fifties) but nevertheless is devoted to ignoring that fact and acting someone else’s age (preferably someone in the latter T-years) whenever possible.