Good morning, it's Jan. 8, 2021, a Friday -- the day of the week when I pass along a quotation intended to be inspirational or thought-provoking. On this date 10 years ago, popular Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was grievously injured in a Tucson parking lot by a deranged gunman who shot 18 other people, killing six.
The level of discourse in this country being what it is, predictable political players and commentators quickly sought partisan advantage from the tragedy. Sarah Palin was to blame, some said, citing an ad Republicans had run targeting Giffords' seat -- complete with a bulls-eye. The shooter was anti-Semitic, others said, or a Christian fanatic with ties to right-wing groups.
None of this was true. Jared Lee Loughner was an atheist who disliked Christians, didn't follow the news, had no discernible political philosophy, and harbored grudges against two politicians: Gabby Giffords and George W. Bush.
Severe mental illness, probably exacerbated by sustained drug abuse, had turned him from the "sweet, caring Jared" high school friends recalled into an incoherent and frightening young man who kept getting fired from jobs and was banned from his junior college for creeping out classmates. Yet, he was legally allowed to purchase firearms.
The ill-fated Jan. 8, 2011, event in a Safeway parking lot in Tucson was Giffords' first "Congress on Your Corner" event. The idea was to meet with constituents and listen to their concerns. Giffords was that kind of public servant. Instead, the scene became a bloodbath. The innocents slain that day were respected federal Judge John Roll; Gabe Zimmerman, a 30-year-old aide in Gifford's office; retirees Dorothy Morris, Dorwan Stoddard, and Phyllis Schneck; and a lovely 9-year-old girl named Christina-Taylor Green.
"One day we were a beautiful family of four, and the next day, we woke up, and we had three -- with no real preparation, no warning, no nothing," her father recalled on the fifth anniversary of that awful day. "It jars every part of your life."
"Really, we were a balanced family" -- a father and mother, a son and daughter – "and then when that happened, we were unbalanced," he added. "We are still unbalanced, but we are learning how to deal with that unbalance. That's always going to be there."
Gabby Giffords survived a gunshot to the head, but was left severely unbalanced in other ways. A promising young moderate Democrat with charisma and character, her future in politics seemed limitless. All that was taken from her in a moment. Well, not the character part; she kept that while embarking on a long and painful rehabilitation that included dealing with paralysis and aphasia. She appeared in the House of Representatives chamber in August 2011 where she received a standing ovation from both sides of the aisle, but she was obliged to give up her seat a year after the shooting.
Yet the 10th year of her recovery, a deeply trying one in our country, brought some measure of success to Giffords and her family. In the summer, she made an evocative appeal for Joe Biden at the Democratic Party's virtual convention. In the autumn, her husband, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, won an Arizona Senate seat. This morning, the New York Times published a powerful essay by Gabby Giffords seeking to put all Americans, regardless of party affiliation, in touch with their better angels:
"That January morning, I had been looking forward to spending time with the people I represented, talking about hopes and needs," she wrote. "It was the part of the job I loved the most. Since then, I have fought every day to regain all that I lost, from walking to speaking to being able to serve my country. I have had to re-examine my own hopes and expectations. It is exhausting. But I stick to my purpose: I still want to make the world a better place. All of the sense of possibility I felt when I arrived in that parking lot 10 years ago has stayed with me."
And that's our quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.