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Gabby Giffords: Channeling pain into purpose

Illustration by Pierce Thiot

Editor’s note: This essay is part of Deseret Magazine’s cover story “How to heal America’s partisan divide.”

Illustration by Kyle Hilton

On Jan. 8, 2021, it will have been 10 years since I was shot.

Those 10 years have held more highs and lows than I could ever count. I’ve stared in the face of someone who sought to kill me and faced my own mortality. I wondered if I would ever be able to walk again — and then I did. I wondered if I would ever be able to speak again. And then I did.

I have been fortified and lifted up and encouraged by countless people who have shown me the best of humanity: my doctors. My speech therapist. My husband. My staff. The many, many elected leaders and survivors who have shown courage in the fight for safer gun laws.

In times of difficulty and hardship, my personal heroes, the people I look up to most, don’t ignore their pain, or pretend it doesn’t exist. They acknowledge it, they accept it, and then they move forward. This idea, in its two-word distillation — move ahead — helped me persevere during my recovery.

2020 was a difficult year for the vast majority of Americans. There was no shortage of tragedy, suffering and division. When people talk about the future these days, there is often a nostalgia for the past embedded in these hopes and dreams, a wish to go back to the way things were before COVID-19 upended our lives.

But the future can never, and indeed, should never, be just a repeat of the past. We are not the same country we were in February 2020, and we never will be, even after a safe and effective vaccine is available to all who want it. No amount of wishing or longing will allow us to rewrite the past, but the future is ours for the writing.

I can’t go back to the life I had before a gunman murdered six people and injured more than a dozen outside of a supermarket 10 years ago, because I’m not the same person I was back then. Not because of my physical limitations, but because of the strength and fortitude that I’ve developed as a result of these limitations.

Rather than let my suffering overcome me, I overcame my suffering. I channeled my grief and anger into the fight to end gun violence.

Now is the time for us to come together as a nation and do the difficult work of rebuilding. We must reject the notion that our country is irreparably broken, that the cracks and fissures in our nation are stronger than the ties that bind us.

We must move ahead, despite our losses. Channeling our pain into purpose will not make the pain disappear. But it will give us something to fight for, and sometimes that’s all you need to make it to tomorrow.

Gabby Giffords served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing Arizona’s 8th Congressional District from January 2007 until January 2012, when she resigned due to a severe brain injury suffered during an assassination attempt. A member of the Democratic Party, Giffords was the third woman in Arizona’s history to be elected to the U.S. Congress.

This story appears in the January/February issue of Deseret Magazine. Learn more about how to subscribe.