Faces of hope in the tears of Tucson

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By David Whitlock

You see their faces splashed on television: the victims of that horrible crime, the murders in Tucson. For just a moment we had been enjoying the cheerful news of good fortune in the life of Ted Williams — the once homeless man whose golden voice captured the Internet and who now is inundated with golden offers, including a five second appearance in a Super Bowl commercial — when suddenly the images of Ted’s smile were replaced by pictures of tears in Tucson. The sad irony of the Tucson tragedy is that so many faces of hope, smiling, optimistic, and buoyant faces were instantly,  maliciously attacked by the face of despair and the hand of hate.
And in that second it takes for a tear to fall, life can change forever.
By now you know of the youngest victim: 9-year- old Christina-Taylor Green. Christina-Taylor, with her big brown eyes, long brown hair, and innocent smile, arrived at the parking lot of Safeway in hopes of meeting one of her heroes, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Christina-Taylor never got the chance. Ironically, Christina-Taylor’s life was framed by tragedy. She was born on a tragic day, Sept. 11, 2001, and died on another tragic day, Jan. 8, 2011. Christina-Taylor was one of the 50 children featured in the book, Faces of Hope, representing babies born on 9/11. And a face of hope she was, even on 1-08-11.
Another victim, U.S. District Judge John Roll, was a widely respected federal judge and public servant.  He was also a grandfather who was simply shopping at the Safeway where the shooting took place and walked to speak a kind word to Giffords. He owned a tender and gentle smile that evoked a sense of confidence and trust from others. John Roll was another face of hope in the tears of Tucson.
Rep. Giffords was meeting with voters outside the grocery store. “It’s not surprising that today Gabby was doing what she always does, listening to the hopes and concerns of her neighbors,” President Obama said of her. Her smile exudes optimism, courage, and strength coupled with humility. Her warm and inviting smile is yet another face of hope in the tears of Tucson.
And the alleged gunman who went after Giffords, the mentally unstable college drop-out, Jared Lee Loughner, had a smile, but not one of hope. Steven Rayle, a former emergency room doctor, was there. He had come to meet Giffords. What did he see in Loughner? A young man with a blank expression on his face.
“I looked up and saw a man with a gun shoot her (Giffords) in the head and then continue firing, rapid-fire, just point blank at everybody who was in the area.”
When did this young man lose hope and turn to violence? We may never know. But he was not, at least at one time, beyond feeling the pain of isolation. In an interview with Clarence Williams of The Washington Post, Loughner’s friend Timothy Cheves recalled a conversation with Loughner in which Cheves encouraged him to get his life on the right track.
“I was telling him about God and all that. And he broke down, crying, and he gave me a big ol’ hug, and said, ‘Thank you, you’re one of the only ones that ever listened to me.’”  
And then, it happened. In the second it takes for a tear to fall, life can change forever. And beautiful faces, full of hope, are no more.
We want an explanation for the unexplainable; we want to find meaning in the senseless; we seek reasons in unreasonableness. And it’s not there.
Sometimes all there is to do is let the tears fall, and enjoy the bit of life we are given, recalling those faces of hope that have graced our journey, and in the remembrance of them, be one, too, because in the second it takes for a tear to fall, life can change forever.

Life Matters is written by David B. Whitlock, Ph.D.  His email is drdavid@davidbwhitlock.com.