Behind Ordinary Faces, Extraordinary Stories

The shootings in Tucson a few weeks ago were a horror, by any description.  It’s the sort of horror we have, unfortunately, become all too familiar with.   An ordinary day was suddenly shattered by unspeakable, heart-wrenching violence.

Media coverage of the event followed a fairly predictable pattern. The first stories focused, rightly, on the condition of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was the target of the assassination attempt.  It was quickly reported that one of the victims was a popular federal judge. Next, there was a frantic attempt to identify the crazed man who sprayed the bullets into bodies in front of the Safeway market. Then came all the coverage about comments on the incident from politicians and pundits. 

But then, the journalists began telling the stories of the other victims. Such a random group of people, whose only real connection was Giffords,  a Tucson Safeway store, and the way they died.

                                       + U.S. District Judge John Roll, 63, had attended early Mass that Saturday and stopped to say hello to his friend Giffords. Known as a man who took his faith and public service seriously, Roll was married to Maureen and had three sons and 5 grandchildren.

  + Gabriel Zimmerman, 30, was Giffords’ director of community outreach, who organized events like this all the time.  A degree in social work and a genuine care for people made him a natural to help people connect with their representative. He was an avid runner and hiker, and had recently been engaged to be married.

  + Dorwin Stoddard, 76, had married his elementary school sweetheart after both their spouses of 50+ years died and they moved back to Tucson. Active in his church, especially with construction projects Stoddard died shielding his wife, Mavy, from the bullets.

 + Dorothy Morris, 76 was a homemaker and retired secretary, whose husband George, her high school boyfriend, was also shot.  They love to travel, and had another home in the Arizona mountains, but when home, everybody said they were good neighbors.

+ Phyllis Schenck, 79,  a retired librarian was a native of New Jersey who wintered in Tucson and kept coming even after her husband died in 2007. Known as a great cook and knitter who made Jets and Giants aprons to sell at church fund-raisers, Schenck is survived by three daughters and seven grandchildren.

+ Christina Green, 9, was born on 9/11/2001 was featured in a book called Faces of Hope, which contained photographs of children born that awful day. She was very athletic, the only girl on her Little League baseball team — and wanted to be the first girl to play in the major leagues. Christina, who had developed an interest in public service by serving in student government at her elementary school, is survived by her parents and her younger brother, Dallas.

            We’ve heard other stories, too.  There was Daniel Hernandez, the 20 year old intern who stayed with Giffords and applied pressure to slow the bleeding from her head wound; Suzie Heilman, the neighbor of Christina’s who took her to the event to meet her Congresswoman; Patricia Maisch, who wrestled away a fresh gun clip when the shooter tried to reload; Roger Sulzgeber and Joseph Zimudie—men who tackled the shooter and sat on him until law enforcement arrived; and Mark Kelly, the NASA space shuttle astronaut who is Gifford’s husband.

These are all ordinary people that we got to know because of one terrible moment. Ordinary people, just living their lives – working and retired, different ethnicities, varied faiths, distinct generations.  A few seconds of gunfire brought them together and let us get to know them, and hear their stories. 

Here’s what I’ve been thinking.  We rub elbows with people like this every day. Ordinary people live in our neighborhoods, shop with us at Kroger, Meijer or Publix, work in our business, cash our check at the bank, take our dry-cleaning, sit with us in history class, cheer their kids and ours at the ballgame—and on and on.  Ordinary people.

And every one of those ordinary people is living an extraordinary story.  Why do I say that? Because human life is endlessly fascinating—the successes, failures, dreams, relationships, history, unique interests, investments and experiences make every story an original – and fascinating.

Remember what the writer of Ecclesiastes said?

For everything there is a season,

and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up; 

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 

a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 

a time to tear, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace….

[God] has made everything beautiful in its time.

(Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8, 11)

            We pass by  people living their beautiful, God-made stories every day.  We can picture them in our minds right now.  And if, God forbid, there were a Tucson Saturday in our town, the reporters would descend in a few days and tell those stories. And the world would be broken-hearted over the loss of such brave, kind, servant-hearted, optimistic, dreaming, faithful and loving people.

            So, let’s not wait for that. Let’s lean in and make the time to make the connections. Have the conversations. Listen well. Celebrate the little things.  And get to know the extraordinary stories playing out in the ordinary people around us every day. 



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