Monday Morning Rock Out – Tucson edition

University Medical Center - Shrine for tragedy victimsIt’s been 2 weeks since the shooting here in Tucson, and things are still pretty raw. If you’ve heard Tucson talked about on the news as a city of a million people that still acts like a small town, then you have a sense of why this hurts so much. You also have a sense for why home feels so much like home here.

And so I am hoping you will indulge me with this special Rock Out, a tribute to the home I adopted 31 years ago this month.

People who are not from Tucson have told me they think the media image of our town has been pretty positive this past 2 weeks. Perhaps that’s because Tucson has an immense sense of civic pride. You heard that pride if you watched the tribute presided over by President Obama. It was that pride that folks across the country chided us for, saying it sounded more like a pep rally than a tribute. In truth, though, that’s part of what it is to live in this big small town – it’s the thing that allows “unfathomably horrible” to see glimmers of normal. Because in Tucson it is absolutely normal for life to feel like one big ongoing U of A pep rally.

Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness

Of course the rest of the state shakes its head for other reasons when Tucson is mentioned, the most notable being a characteristic of which we Tucsonans are perhaps the most proud (and yes, BTW, it is Tucsonan – not Tucsonian.) And that’s the fact that Tucson is a solidly progressive bastion in a state that has mostly made the news for things like huge intolerance for immigrants (in Tucson we call it racism) balanced only by its equally huge tolerance for weapons, concealed or otherwise.

Most recently in the “intolerance for anything remotely Latino” category, Arizona’s outgoing State Superintendent of Education (and new Attorney General) told reporters that his biggest accomplishment was eliminating the ethnic studies program in a particular public school district. And where was that rogue district? You guessed it. Tucson’s school district not only didn’t shut down that program – they have openly challenged the absurdly intolerant decree, continuing to teach about the people who were here first and whose nation is only an hour down the road.

So yes, we are getting our share of the news focus these days. But long before this, in a time called the 1970’s, Tucson was famous among people all over the world. It was during that time long ago that people longed to visit Tucson simply because this was the home of JoJo.

If you are reading this in an email reader and cannot see the video, click here to see it.

I confess my soft spot for this song is not because of my adopted home, but instead because of a friend from what was still at that time Yugoslavia. I had met Carmen in the traveling days of my youth, and was instantly smitten. How could you not love someone whose itinerary of U.S. must-see sights was simply a list of places she had heard of in songs?

Carmen and I had traveled together to Cripple Creek, Colorado, with Carmen singing The Band’s song the whole way up and back (never mind it is a different Cripple Creek – Carmen wasn’t in this for accuracy.) When she heard I had settled in Tucson, I could hear her enthusiasm jump off the page of her letter. “Oh oh oh! Tucson! That’s where JoJo lives!”

This particular video makes me smile for another reason, though – a reason that is connected not to the Tucson I moved to back in 1980, but the Tucson of today. And that’s because this particular performance is the 70’s equivalent of today’s flash mobs – that spontaneous outpouring of emotion of the people in the streets and windows, the joy, the pointing, the wanting to be part of something.We must meet hate with love

That’s what we’re feeling these days here in Tucson. When Gabby left the hospital to head to Texas for rehab last week, people lined the streets, waving and throwing kisses and saluting. They linked arms and wept.

At University Medical Center, the spontaneous outpouring of support and love, of tenderness and the overwhelming desire for peace – it is almost indescribable to be in the middle of the shrine that was, until recently, the hospital’s front lawn. People of all faiths have come together to pray in their own way, to encourage, to be together.University Medical Center shrine

Because when times are hard, people need each other. I hope you will remember that as you head into your week. We need each other and we are at our best when we are linking arms with others.

Which is another Tucson thing – something folks around the state say about our home. Here in Tucson, we work together.

It is one of the first things Dimitri and I found when we began talking with people up the road in Phoenix, helping them build their community’s Diaper Bank. During that time, we were repeatedly told, “That sort of collaborative effort won’t work here. We’re not like you in Tucson. You guys all work together…” While Tucsonans wish we would work together even more closely, having worked all over the world, we are consistently impressed with the level of cooperation in our hometown.

So maybe if the rest of the world takes nothing else from this nightmare but that, we can make something positive out of this horrific tragedy.

Imagine what might be the result if community benefit organizations around the world picked up the phone right now and asked their “competition” this question:

“What can we accomplish together that neither of us can accomplish on our own?”

Have a great Monday, and a great week, all.

If you want updates about Gabby’s condition, follow her husband @ShuttleCDRKelly on Twitter

One Response to Monday Morning Rock Out – Tucson edition

  1. Throughout the last 2 weeks I have been reminded of that quality that informs so much of what goes on in this town, the sense of community. I grew up in Phoenix (Scottsdale actually, back when it was a real town) and have always described it as a collection of people who happen to find themselves next to one another, there was never a sense of ‘us’. It is a city of transplants.
    Tucson has a sense of itself, which in someways is counter-intuitive, given that it too is, by and large, a city of transplants like so much of the SW US. But there is a depth and character that influences even the most singular of us and that has shown through time and again recently. Thank you.