JONI AVERILL

Holden resident offers thoughts from Tucson

Posted Feb. 17, 2011, at 7:31 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 17, 2011, at 10:12 p.m.

After the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson, Ariz. that killed six and injured 13, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, Holden residents Bill and Sarah Clark, who winter in Tucson, were in contact with family and friends, lending a personal perspective to an incident that affected us all.

In the days immediately after the shootings, Sarah wrote that her winter community members were in mourning.

“People embrace each other; vigils are held, voices are modulated,” she wrote.

“Temples, churches and mosques hold gatherings, meetings and services to help members make sense out of the inexplicable. Psychologists and social workers visit schools to comfort children.”

Tucson, as anyone who has visited there knows and Sarah describes, is a lovely, relatively small city.

In fact, it is much like Bangor in the sense that as this event unfolds, “everyone seems to have some personal connection or story,” Sarah wrote.

For example, grandparents of one of the victims live at the same assisted care facility as one of Bill and Sarah’s friends.

“Snowbirds” whom Bill and Sarah know well had rented their apartment to one of the federal marshals involved, Sarah wrote, adding that “Bill shops weekly at the Safeway store up the street from us where the shootings took place.”

Sarah reaffirmed something that happens to many of us during devastating moments in our history.

In Tucson, she wrote, “everyone seems to remember where they were when they first heard the news” of the shootings.

“It’s as though PTS [post-traumatic stress] has descended on an entire city.”

As people prayed for the victims, Sarah wrote, “we also search our souls for how we, as individuals, cities, states and the nation, can turn our faces away from violence and vitriol and towards tolerance, understanding and compassion.”

Sarah and I have continued to communicate, and she told me on Jan. 11 she would attend a press conference-vigil at the University of Arizona Medical Center that included Women for Peace and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

By Jan. 12, Sarah said, the community was “transitioning from shock at the tragic shootings of Gabby Giffords, as she is affectionately known here, and the others, to a mood of deep grief.”

“People speak of waking in the middle of the night to a consciousness of cataclysm; others mention weeping openly; some say they turn off the radio and TV to surround themselves with quiet.”

During those days, “serious and somber” vigils were ongoing in front of the University Medical Center, with candles, signs, notes, cards and letters lining the curb.

“Teddy Bears and balloons attest to the heartfelt sadness at the death of 9-year-old Christina Taylor-Green,” Sarah wrote.

“The mood is respectful, attentive and compassionate.”

With national and local media as well as letters to the editor of the Arizona Daily Star expressing concerns about mental health and gun issues, Sarah pointed out that while residents were living “in a city of profound shock and grief … most believe random acts of kindness, that reflect our better selves, still exist.”

Since our earlier correspondence, funerals have been held for those who were killed, Rep. Giffords has been transferred to a rehabilitation facility in Texas, injured victims work on their recoveries, Christina’s organs have been donated to save the lives of others, and the legal process is under way to bring to justice the man accused of the shootings.

And life in Tucson is a bit quieter now, Sarah reported.

“The memorials that were put in front of the Safeway store and the Medical Center have been dismantled and, the interesting point there is that all the Teddy Bears, notes, cards, candles, etc., are going to be archived at the University of Arizona.”

Sarah said the archivists “will be collecting them and writing down what they are, who they are from … and all that material will be saved.”

Sarah also mentioned local students are selling white rubber bracelets in memory of the victims.

According to the Web, the bracelet idea came from students in the district where Christina attended school, and proceeds from the “Remember 1.8.11” bracelets will benefit the shooting victims.

In her most recent message, Sarah said while news of Giffords is still on the front page of the paper every day with updates on her condition, “those are becoming somewhat fewer, but today’s was that she is talking and asked for toast.”

Now, nearly six weeks after the tragedy in Tucson, Sarah has noticed a calmness beginning to settle over her community and, for everyone, that must be comforting.

Joni Averill, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402; javerill@bangordailynews.com; 990-8288.

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