pierced hearts

My Californian friend called me not too long ago. She had just returned from an extended stay in Tucson with her longtime friend, Roxanna, whose nine-year-old daughter, Christina-Taylor Green, was murdered at Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ meet-and-greet. Though I knew she and Roxanna were close I was not aware that Christina was her godchild.

She spoke emotionally and at length about the events of the harrowing week, about staying in Roxanna’s home, attending Christina’s wake and about how, at the memorial, one unsavory visitor who had spooked her, had been swiftly removed by security.

She told me that Christina died from a single bullet that had pierced her heart. She went on to say that one of Christina’s organs was donated to save another child’s life, and her corneas helped the sight of two other children.

During the hour we spoke on the phone, she described how her daughter and Christina had been like peas and carrots—closer than cousins. At the service, my friend and her daughter approached Christina’s open red oak casket to say their final goodbyes. For hours her daughter had been tightly hugging Christina’s favorite stuffed animal, so loved that its nose had been worn off. She told her daughter that the plush toy needed to be with Christina. So the girl, with tears in her eyes, laid the it beside Christina’s body, so beautiful and peaceful in repose.

Later, while at a grocer, my friend sparked up a conversation with a rugged, boot and leather-clad man adorned with tattoos. Together they reflected on the recent days’ events and she asked him if he had attended the memorial. He said yes, and that he had organized hundreds of fellow motorcyclists, from rival bike gangs, to harmoniously converge in Tucson in honor of the massacre’s victims.

Near the end of our telephone conversation my friend described her awe of the immense togetherness and goodness that had come out of the tragic events. To her, it was proof of the existence of God and I understood her faith. I winced, however, when she related telling Roxanna that this was, perhaps, Christina’s destiny. At hearing these words I couldn’t help but picture the beautiful, happy little girl being violently and senselessly gunned down, lying flat and lifeless on the hot pavement. Was this all part of some grand design to bring about goodness and change in the world? I bristled at the thought remembering the familiar stab and sting I feel when people tell me that Calvin—thus his inherent disabilities and rampant seizure disorder—“happened for a reason.” Silently, I hoped that Roxanna somehow found consolation in our friend’s well-intended and honest words, though I can only imagine Roxanna's own heart was pierced the day her precious child was so brutally killed.

The events that transpired after the shooting were indeed most powerful and wondrous. Strangers and adversaries melded fluidly to console and uplift each other. Amazing, positive phenomena were born of chaos, blood and catastrophe. This often hidden foundation of ours, of empathy and compassion for strangers, surged into an outpouring of concern and selflessness and—if only for a moment—we forgot what so often divides us. If only we could figure out a way to make it stick.

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