The tragic shooting in Tucson that left Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords brain injured and six others dead left a nation in shock and mourning. Amidst the horror, I was filled with a seething rage… at gun control laws, at the escalating violence, and at the inadequacy of mental health resources.

My anger began to dissipate as I watched the city of Tucson come together and heal. Public memorials started springing up; mourners began to gather on the front lawn of the University Medical Center. At first a few at a time, but then more and more people showed up, and the front lawn became a carpet of candles, letters, photographs, and poems. In the beginning it was a place of quiet reflection where visitors whispered to each other. Then it became a more social experience, and people brought guitars, violins, and stayed for hours. Other memorials appeared, one in front of the supermarket where the shootings took place. Citizens put signs on their front lawns, hung tributes on cacti, even sponsored a parade.

Two young women organized A Peace March, they hoped 100 people might show up, but word-of-mouth, flyers on telephone poles, and Facebook postings brought out 400 people. People young and old, of every race and creed, marching to honor victims of senseless violence and honor heroism. One lady showed up with a sign that said Free Hugs and people were hugging her all along the entire parade route.

What’s happening here? Simply that as a species, we have a need to gather in community in times of stress and times of joy. We heal better in community, and rituals and ceremonies provide us with a way to open our hearts and express feelings.
Participating as a community breaks down the boundaries that separate people, Joining in them rather than observing them is a whole different experience. When we’re in the middle of it we can feel the energy of everyone pulling in the same direction. That energy gives us hope in times of our greatest doubts and despair.

Even as a spectator I was moved, and for the first time in a while, proud to be an Arizonan.