It is a place where I shop for groceries, do my banking and get take-out food. But on the morning of Saturday, Jan. 8, La Toscana Village was on television screens across the nation. My town, my neighborhood, was the site of fatal shootings.
To many, that shopping center will never again be seen in the same way.
On the night of Tuesday, Jan. 11, I stood about 100 feet away from the Safeway entrance, my pathway restricted by police tape. A few TV-news vans were parked in the lot, and a female reporter was interviewing a member of the Pima County Sheriff's Department. His truck was parked with lights flashing, as the scene was still under investigation.
A handful of people had gathered. A pair of women chatted; a couple of men stood at the shrine by the road. It was a small collection—three candles, bouquets of flowers, a stuffed animal and some cards. A white envelope was propped in front with the words "To Whom It May Concern" written in pencil with uneven strokes, most likely penned by a child.
I walked away thinking of those who had perished, and also about the aforementioned letter. To whom was the letter written? To those who died? To those who were injured? Perhaps to the city that mourned?
If this letter was written to the city, I wondered what a child might say. Maybe he would tell us to be kind to one another, to share and to use our manners. Maybe she would tell us not to yell, not to be mean to one another, not to hate.
Whether or not this was the intent of the letter, I've seen these simple acts play out over the last few weeks—and it's been quite a thing to witness. Tucson residents as a whole could have become angry, bitter and vengeful. Instead, there's been a joining together, an outpouring of support, love and determination.
There's no better example of determination than Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Faced with death threats, she ventured out to Ina and Oracle roads that morning to meet her constituents. Serving her community took precedence. Since the shootings, we've been inspired by her grit. With her every glance, every movement and every step, our city has cheered, and rightfully so.
While learning about those who departed—Christina-Taylor Green, Dorothy Morris, John Roll, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwan Stoddard and Gabe Zimmerman—we've seen lives of heroism, service, devotion and dreams. While hearing about the actions of Bill Badger, Daniel Hernandez, Patricia Maisch, first responders and others, we've seen the courage of our residents. At the hospital with Drs. G. Michael Lemole and Peter Rhee, and a team of talented medical staffers, we've seen professionalism and excellence. At the McKale Center, we've seen the pride, enthusiasm and individuality of our city (even if others didn't see the same).
A drive around town yielded other hopeful images. A huge lawn full of flowers, cards, photos and more accumulated at University Medical Center, followed by a memorial at the Safeway plaza. Groups of candles flickered in the quiet night. Banners and marquees flashed, with "We're praying for Tucson," "We love you, Gabby" and "Together Tucson"—demonstrating our unity.
We've done a lot together in these last few weeks—walked for peace, prayed at vigils, hung Ben's Bells, gave blood and donated food. Everything from art, quilts, plays and concerts have been offered in dedication. Funds have been set up, and we've reached into our pockets.
Most encouraging is that we've begun to reach into our minds and hearts to examine what kind of world we wish to live in. Nationally, the words "civility" and "respect" are on the tips of many tongues. There's been a greater desire to find solutions together rather than to highlight differences.
Those of us in Tucson won't easily forget these recent events, even after the nation moves on to the next big story. There will be feelings of shock and great sorrow. There will be thoughts of people killed and injured. There will be memories of our town in the national spotlight.
In addition, there will be lighter memories. We'll recall fond moments with those we lost, acts of kindness from strangers and an outpouring of support. There will be recollections of the pride and strength with which we responded.
Tucson stood together.
My town, my neighborhood—no, it will never again be seen in the same way.