On January 8, 2011, I was in a store called Antigua de Mexico, on Ina Road in Tucson, Arizona. Strolling among the Talavera pottery, Oaxaca carvings, saguaro ribbed chairs, I was…happy. I had come in from blue skies and bright sunshine, and I tried not to think of my Ohio friends who were battling the ice and snow. It made me feel a tad smug thinking of them crouched into their heavy coats and scarves. People greet each other here with “Ah, another day in Paradise.”
I noticed that there were no sales clerks on the floor, but I could see a couple of souls in the office area. Using the universal call for sales help, I cleared my throat.
A young beautifully Latino woman emerged and gave me a weak smile. Instead of saying “May I help you” she asked, “Have you heard?”
“Heard what?” I asked, on alert to such phrases as that and others like, “Are you sitting down?”
“Gabby Giffords was shot.”
To this baby boomer, another name had been added to “…was shot.” John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lennon, and the list goes on. The visceral reaction to profound disbelief is a hallowing of the chest, rapid heartbeats, and the proverbial dropping of the jaw. And as if such action could somehow make me see things differently, my eyes widened.
Nearly at the same time as receiving the bad news about Gabrielle Giffords, images of her vitality, intelligence, and her “breath of fresh air to politics” whirled in my mind. My new and sunny retirement world of golf, Mah Jjong, good friends was shaken by the reality of the human condition—imperfect, unpredictable, and sometimes treacherous.
Just two months ago, there was another tragedy in my hometown of Mount Vernon, Ohio, once labeled “An All American City.” Robberies, sure, some drug activity, yep, but all in all it was a great place to raise children. It was a safe place. Serious crime happened in Columbus or in some other city defamed on the evening news. In its heyday, Mount Vernon was like Opie’s world in the Andy Griffith Show—another kind of paradise. Until Matthew Hoffman. Until November 10, 2010. Hoffman killed and dismembered a mother, her son, and a friend of the mother. He kidnapped the thirteen-year old daughter. I didn’t know the family so I had no images to run through my head, but I know that many other people did. Their images surely evoked the predictable symptoms of disbelief.
When tragedy intrudes upon anyone’s version of paradise, it’s a reminder we can’t become complacent about the soft bedding of our privileged lives. The unpredictability of our lives keeps us on course, forces us to consider the world around us and beyond us. President Obama said it best in his speech in Tucson:
…sudden loss causes us to look backward – but it also forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us. We may ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives. Perhaps we question whether we are doing right by our children, or our community, and whether our priorities are in order. We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame – but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.
Paradise is a dream that we all desire, sometimes revel in, but it is temporary. As long as there are people, there will be evil in the world. But there is good also, and we can all strive to be part of it—by reflecting, by listening, and by doing. We can provide glimpses of Paradise. Those glimpses are called hope, and they serve to inspire our daily lives.