The HyperTexts

Gabrielle Giffords "Grace Under Fire" in Poetry, Tweets and Quotes

by Michael R. Burch, an editor and publisher of Holocaust and Nakba poetry

Is this the most beautiful Tweet ever? ...

The Capitol looks beautiful and I am honored to be at work tonight.
—Gabrielle Giffords

While so many other American politicians rage and imagine vain things, I find Gabrielle Giffords’ words wonderfully touching, encouraging, even comforting. Reading her poetic Tweet, I can actually see our nation's Capitol lit up at night, shining like a beacon, and feel her sincerity.

How many Senators and Congressmen are humble enough to feel honored to work for their country and its people, I wonder? In any case, I'm glad to have Gabby back, and to know that she's not only recovering from her injuries, but wants to help her country recover from its own deep-seated (albeit self-inflicted) wounds. I only hope other Americans will exhibit some of her grace under fire. After all, if she pulled through her harrowing ordeal, so can we as a nation, if only we emulate her courage, resolve and gracious spirit. After reading her words, I wrote this poem:

Night, Illuminated

for Gabrielle Giffords

Night, and the city shines like a beacon . . .
with some obscure hope distant stars comprehend.
We all have our wounds—you, I, and the city—
wounds love may yet mend.

I once waltzed with Death in a lightless abyss,
then opened my eyes to superior horizons
of love in bright eyes, of encouraging smiles,
and found life surprising.

What did I learn, with my first baby steps?
What did I see, when my fair hair was shorn
then grew back dark?
                                  That I was loved yet,
that the rose always blossoms higher than the thorn.

Night, and the city shines like a beacon
with an unfailing hope brilliant stars comprehend.
We all have our wounds—you, I, and the city—
now it’s time to mend.

I had to be here for the vote.
—Gabrielle Giffords, August 1, 2011, returning to the House floor to help resolve the "debt ceiling debacle."

Good stuff, good stuff!
—Gabrielle Giffords, May 16, 2011, while watching her husband Mark E. Kelly launch into space aboard the space shuttle Endeavor (its last voyage).

While we celebrate her recovery and return to political life (heavens knows we need politicians like her!), we cannot and must not forget that six other people died that terrible day in Tuscon, one of them a nine-year-old girl. I wrote a poem in her memory:

Child of 9-11

a poem for Christina-Taylor Green,
who was born on September 11, 2001
and who died at the age of nine, shot
to death ...

Child of 9-11, beloved,
I bring this lily, lay it down
here at your feet, and eiderdown,
and all soft things, for your gentle spirit.
I bring this psalm — I hope you hear it.

Much love I bring — I lay it down
here by your form, which is not you,
but what you left this shell-shocked world
to help us learn what we must do
to save another child like you.

Child of 9-11, I know
you are not here, but watch, afar
from distant stars, where angels rue
the terrible things some mortals do.
I also watch; I also rue.

And so I make this pledge and vow:
though I may weep, I will not rest
nor will my pen fail heaven's test
till guns and wars and hate are banned
from every shore, from every land.

Child of 9-11, I grieve
your tender life, cut short ... bereaved,
what can I do, but pledge my life
to saving lives like yours? Belief
in your sweet worth has led me here ...

I give my all: my pen, this tear,
this lily and this eiderdown,
and all soft things my heart can bear;
I bring them to your final bier,
and leave them with my promise, here.

On her Facebook page, Gabrielle Giffords lists her favorite quotation as this excerpt from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address: "With malice toward none, with charity for all ... let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds ... to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

My position is to listen to my constituents,
learn from the best information available
and ultimately make sound, rational decisions.
—Gabrielle Giffords

Our country must be strong enough to solve problems,
and that means we must learn how to work together again.
—Gabrielle Giffords

In the years that some of my colleagues have served — 20, 30 years — they’ve never seen it like this.
—Gabrielle Giffords, discussing being targeted by Sarah Palin, in a March 2010 interview with MSNBC. Sarah Palin's political action committee had targeted Giffords and other Democrats by placing them (metaphorically) in the crosshairs of rifle scopes because they supported healthcare reform. Palin tweeted her followers on Twitter, "Don't Retreat, instead RELOAD!" Please note the difference in tone and spirit between Giffords' tweet, and Palin's. I am reminded of another quote by Honest Abe:

The ballot is stronger than the bullet.
Abraham Lincoln

Gabrielle Giffords spoke about violent political rhetoric, after her office was vandalized in March, 2010:

"Are you afraid? Are you fearful today?"

"You know, I’m not. We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of protesters over the course of the last several months. Our office corner has really become an area where the Tea Party movement congregates. And the rhetoric is incredibly heated. Not just the calls, but the emails, the slurs. So things have really gotten spun up. But you gotta think about it. Our democracy is a light, a beacon really around the world, because we effect change at the ballot box, and not because of these outbursts — of violence in certain cases, and the yelling, and it’s just … you know, change is important, it’s a part of our process, but it’s really important that we focus on the fact that we have a democratic process."

"I think it’s important for all leaders, not just leaders of the Republican Party or the Democratic Party … community leaders, figures in our community to say, ‘Look, we can’t stand for this.’ I mean, this is a situation where people really need to realize that the rhetoric, and firing people up, and even things … For example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, the way she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gunsight over our district. And when people do that, they’ve gotta realize there’s consequences to that action."

"In the years that some of my colleagues have served, twenty, thirty years, they’ve never seen it like this. We have to work out our problems by negotiating, working together, hopefully Democrats and Republicans."

Here's what people who know her well have said about Gabrielle Giffords:

"At first I thought she was trying to strangle me ... It was miraculous."—Mark Kelly, her husband, after Gabby opened her eyes and grabbed him for the first time, a few days after the shooting, which took place on January 8, 2011.

"She's in the ICU. You know, gone through this traumatic injury. And she spent ten minutes giving me a neck massage. I keep tellin' her. I'm like, 'Gabby, you're in the ICU. You know, you don't need — you know, you don't need to be doin' this.' But it's so typical of her that no matter how bad the situation might be for her, you know, she's lookin' out for other people. Gabby's got a long road ahead of her. We know that the recovery from these [kinds] of injuries isn't measured in days and weeks. It's more like weeks and months ... But, you know, she's a really, really tough woman."—Mark Kelly

"My sister-in-law, Gabrielle Giffords, is a kind, compassionate, brilliant woman, loved by friends and political adversaries alike, a true patriot: What is going on in our country that such a good person can be the subject of such senseless violence? It's a sad day."—astronaut and brother-in-law Scott J. Kelly

"Gabby Giffords was a friend of mine. She is not only an extraordinary public servant, but she is also somebody who is warm and caring. She is well liked by her colleagues and well liked by her constituents."—President Barack Obama

Our family loves Tucson and the Giffords-Kelly family, and we feel privileged to be close enough to have some small appreciation of the courage it has taken for Gabrielle Giffords to be able to stand, wave, express thanks to her colleagues, and cast her vote on Monday night. It's the kind of courage that isn't spent in an instant. It's a steely fortitude — literally one step, one sound at a time — that begins each day from the moment she awakes, and will stretch for years. But Gabby's resilience is revealed in the smile she flashed from the floor of the House.—Scott Simon, NPR, August 7, 2011

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