8:03am

Sat January 15, 2011
Simon Says

Amid Tragedy, Tucson Shows What It's Made Of

My family and I love Tucson. It was Gabby Giffords who persuaded us to come there, and we’ve come to feel that her sunniness and warmth reflect the town. We've grown to cherish the friendly people, fabulous local food, great colorful talk, cacti, lizards, javelinas, quesadillas and coyotes howling over the town at night.

When I say Tucson is "kid-friendly," I don't just mean that restaurants keep crayons in a cup on their tables to distract children. When people stop us on the street to say hello, they bend down to talk to our daughters and laugh with them.

Tucson has character and characters. It is home to an engaging mix of retirees, hipsters, military families, immigrants and old-timers. The town -- and it's proud of being a town, no matter how large it grows -- contains a diversity of opinion that defies the entrenched definitions of East Coast talking heads.

We've met people who consider themselves conservatives who say, "Fine with me if two men want to get married," and people who consider themselves liberals who say, "Just don't mess with my right to own a gun."

So we were astonished, but not surprised, to learn what Tucson is made of: a 20-year-old student and government intern, Daniel Hernandez, who put his hands on Gabby Giffords' wounds to staunch her bleeding; a senior citizen, Patricia Maisch, who launched herself into the 22-year-old man now charged with murder to wrestle a gun magazine from his hands and save lives; a federal judge, John Roll, who had handed down rulings that brought threats to his life when he gave illegal immigrants the right to sue people who assaulted and abused them. Or that the parents of Christina Green, the delightful 9-year-old girl who died, would donate some of their daughter's organs -- they have already been transplanted to help a little girl in Boston live; or that a blunt, skilled, Korean-American trauma surgeon, Peter Rhee, who had sewn many wounds in combat zones abroad, should be on duty at the University Medical Center and prove to be exactly the right man in the right place and time.

In a way this week, almost every person in Tucson was. History struck it a terrible blow. But Tucson struck back with courage, decency and class. Strangers sprang unflinchingly into danger to stop killing. Citizens joined in a chorus of compassion and prayers to give strength not only to their wounded neighbors, but also a nation.

Because of the people of Tucson, the terrible events in which six people were killed and 13 wounded will not just be remembered as a crime, but for the glimpse Tucson gave us into the resilience of the human soul. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.