Archive for January, 2011

Biting the Dust

I finally went to the Safeway today.  There was a time when it was as anonymous as any Safeway in the United States. But as I stand behind police tape with others who came to gawk, mourn, or just be here, I realize it will forever be known as THE Safeway; the place of mass death, of a young man spitting madness in the form of bullets, of screams, of error, of heroism.

It took me days to get up the courage to get near here, but I knew I had to go. I wanted to go back to the place where just the day before the shootings, judicious use of my  Safeway club card prompted the casher to say, “Mrs. Gale, you saved seventeen dollars and twenty-two cents.”  I wanted to stop soaking up every TV news report,  get my ass off the couch and stand on the same asphalt that the killer did when he when he raised his gun.

Healing is different for each of us, but its necessity brings together those who might never cross paths or exchange a word. It turns indifference into the hug I shared with the woman who stood next to me as the network satellite trucks provided the only shade in the desert midday.

“God bless you for coming here,” she told me, and at that moment I loved her.

Much in the same way that Tucsonans couldn’t begin to understand what it was like to be in New York on 9/11, those who don’t live in this community have no idea what it feels like to be here right now–and what it’s felt like for the past week. Omaha, NE, Killeen, TX, Binghamton, NY, Carthage, NC, Columbine– and other communities where large numbers of people were just doing people things when they were shot dead– have never felt closer to my heart.

We breathe the air the killer breathed. We look at the same desert-blue sky. We drive by the shooting site or the hospital or Gabby Gifford’s office every day on our way to work or school or errands. We know a victim. Or someone who knows a victim. Or someone who knows someone who knows a victim.

I picked up my glasses today and was handed them by a girl who lives a few houses down the street from the accused gunman, Jared Loughner. She’s known him since elementary school and saw him the evening before the shooting.

“He was walking with his head down and we said ‘hey,'” she told me.  “He didn’t answer, so we said ‘hey’ again and he finally said ‘hey.’ But he didn’t look at us.”

That morning, I hiked a dry wash near my house. The Sweetwater is named for the few times each year it churns with runoff from monsoon rains rushing down from the Tucson Mountains. I found a rare flat rock, one that I would usually take home and toss on my pile of other cool rocks on the back porch. Instead, I took it inside, and in black magic marker with my left-handed scrawl, wrote in Hebrew and English  “Gam zeh ya’avor–This too, shall pass.”

This saying–attributed to Solomon or Sufi poets, depending on who you ask–is my mother’s favorite, and she applied it to everything from a scraped knee to my dad’s suicide. It never made me feel better, but it always made me feel like I’d survive.

I walked around the perimeter of the shopping center. All the stores except Safeway were open, and people were eating lunch, shopping and doing the kinds of things that people do when they’re not being slaughtered.

I found a lush mesquite, one of the generic desert trees that, combined with a mini-rock lawn, make up most of the oases in Arizona parking lots. I placed my rock at the base of the tree next to a bouquet of wilted red roses. As I walked away,  I saw a videographer move his tripod in for the kill.

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January 14, 2011 at 8:54 pm Leave a comment


Roberta Gale

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