It is the Arizona city where she was hurt. Now, Gabrielle Giffords has moved back home to Tucson to heal.
It’s been a little more than a year and a half since the former congresswoman was shot by a gunman while she talked with constituents outside a grocery store. Six people died in that attack. Giffords survived, gave up her House seat to concentrate on her recovery and underwent physical and speech therapy in Houston. She surprised everyone with her progress, and just last month, a photo of her smiling high in the French Alps brought a smile to others.
It’s some distance from that snow-covered peak to the Tucson desert, but as her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, told the Arizona Daily Star of their move on Sunday: “You know, it’s time for her to get back to as much of a normal life as possible after this type of catastrophic injury.”
Normal in Tucson can be quite wonderful. This East Coast urbanite found that out when a newspaper job took me to the city 30 years ago. I appreciated the sunsets with colors that seemed too unusual to be real and the mesmerizing hours-long lightning storms that flashed across the sky. I was surprised at how a cloudless sky could turn dark in minutes and unleash a downpour that disappeared just as quickly. And the desert that everyone warned would be boring and barren was as full of life as anything I had seen, particularly after one of those storms. It wasn’t just the great Mexican dishes or the quality of late-evening light that made me take notice.
Like Giffords, a Democrat who was a protector of gun rights with motorcycle-riding among her varied pursuits, the people I met in Tucson prided themselves on their individuality and inability to be pinned down to any one philosophy. When the toughest cowboy on my job brought the biggest teddy bear to my baby shower, I just laughed.
Unlike Giffords, I wasn’t a native. Yet it didn’t take long to fall into the relaxed Tucson way of accepting each person on his or her own terms. I’ve never met Giffords, but I have admired her fight and her spirit.
Kelly told the Star that Giffords can’t remember much about the shooting and the weeks right after. “It was very important for her to be in Houston, where she was able to get very specific therapy for this type of injury,” he said. “She did that for a year and a half, and the second we realized that was going to start winding down, it was time for us to start looking forward to how we could get to Tucson." She still has a lot of work to do, but, he said, “Obviously, a big thing for her is to come home.”
It’s good to know that though a gunman shattered the peace, he couldn’t spoil the unique lure of the place and people Giffords knows best.
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at the New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3