February 2, 2012 —This morning, the morning of January 8, 2012, at 10:11, Tucsonans were encouraged to ring bells in remembrance of the January 8, 2011 "Your Congress at the Corner" shooting which killed six, injured several, included Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and tore the threads of the Tucson's social fabric. Over fifty events are scheduled for this weekend to serve as a memorial for the community. Yesterday, my husband and I went to Valley of the Moon (a place where "fairies" sat on rock-hewn toadstools or grassy knolls) and read the favorite stories of two of those who died, Gabe Zimmerman and Christina Taylor-Green.
We used to take our son to the Valley, and later our niece and nephew who, in spite of childhood exposure to television, videos and computers, were fascinated by the suggested imagery of this special-Tucson-funky place. When I told my 29-year-old son about it this morning and asked him, "Do you remember that place?" he warmed his mother's heart by responding, "Oh, yes, it was great; I loved it."
Yesterday, as part of the Beyond events, the community was called to celebrate life; today's events are to memorialize life. But when I stood on my porch, still clothed in pajamas and slippers (this is, after all, Sunday morning and part of my life-celebration is to "go slow" when I can), I only heard my bell ringing. I expected to hear the bells from nearby churches, but all that accompanied the clang that used to bring in cows to be fed or farmworkers to end their field day, was the chatter of birds in the trees. The cowbell didn't ruffle them at all. And I wonder, did anyone else hear the bell? Does it matter?
Like the sound of "one hand clapping in the forest," does one bell ringing in a neighborhood instill more neighborliness? I can begin to walk my own talk today by being more tolerant of my backyard neighbor's barking beagle. I can walk in the desert and smile at everyone I meet. Yesterday, I made a point of opening doors for others, even when it was obvious that they could open the doors for themselves. I buried my familial resentment over caretaking my dad and offered to take him (again) to the doctor's tomorrow and fill out paperwork for a new referral.
It doesn't take a lot to turn around my own moment from self-centeredness to considering the welfare of others, but it does take consciousness. Left to my own slippery slope, I slide into spiritual restlessness born from resentments and a feeling of entitlement.
But, not today, not this weekend. When I picked up my great grandparents' cow bell, I not only touched a part of my personal history but also a part of America's past. Before my grandparents died, I interviewed them about their Indiana life. They told me that by tying a white piece of cloth to their fencepost, they would let "hoboes" know that their farmhouse was open for a warm meal, served in the kitchen with the rest of the farmhands (who ate before the farmer's family did). By first feeding not only their farmhands, but strangers, the generation of Indiana farmers that my grandparents belonged to were demonstrating personal and communal charity. Whatever I learned about that concept, I learned from them.
So, by ringing my family cow bell, I was celebrating the best of the American and human community. And I choose to believe that in the daily actions of many in Tucson and, perhaps in other communties today and everyday, others celebrate community. And so other bells chime with mine.
This post originally appeared on the one-year anniversary of the Tucson shooting, January 8, 2012, on Anita Fonte's blog, slow life. We repost it here and now in honor of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Gifford's decision to resign from Congress so that she may continue to work on her recovery. May the strength of community guide the people of Tucson and across the United States as we heal from the wounds inflicted by this tragedy, and as we work to move beyond violence.