On the floor of the House of Representatives Wednesday afternoon, a year and 17 days after she was shot in the head by a would-be assassin's bullet, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle "Gabby" Giffords tendered her resignation as representative of Arizona's 8th Congressional District.
An unusually emotional scene unfolded in the House chamber, with many members of Congress struggling — and failing — to keep their composure as Gifford's close friend, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, tearfully read the resignation letter on Gifford's behalf.
Giffords final day in Congress ended with a significant victory as an anti-smuggling bill she had introduced was brought to the floor for a vote and passed unanimously.
Giffords was shot in the head on Jan. 8, 2011, by a gunman who wounded 12 others and killed six people, including a member of her staff. She is recovering from brain surgery and facial reconstruction and has required physical therapy to regain mobility.
Giffords’s husband, Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut and Navy captain, listened to today’s tributes from the House gallery. Cantor said a phone call from Kelly led to him scheduling the vote on the smuggling bill, H.R. 3801, for today. The measure passed, 408-0.
The bill would outlaw the use of ultralight aircraft used to smuggle drugs. Giffords’s congressional district includes part of Arizona’s southern border with Mexico. The legislation, which the Senate could clear as early as tomorrow, would subject violators to up to 20 years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.
At Tuesday evening's State of the Union Address, Giffords received a lengthy standing ovation from her colleagues, and, as he walked to the podium to deliver his speech, Obama stopped to greet Giffords, enveloping her in a big hug and kissing her on each cheek.
Many of Giffords friends, colleagues and admirers offered eloquent and deeply personal tributes to the woman who surely embodies, even in her slight frame, an heroic lion's heart and the very mightiest of spirits.
Before she read Giffords' resignation letter, Wasserman Schultz said, "This is only a pause in her public service she will return. ... She will return one day to public service."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called Giffords "the brightest star this congress has ever seen," adding: "Your legacy in this congress and your leadership in our nation will certainly endure."
And Senate Minority Whip Steny Hoyer described Giffords this way: "She has become an example for us ... for indeed all the world. Of courage. Of clarity of purpose. Of grace."
Yes. Giffords indeed has embodied and been on the receiving end of some staggering grace.
Weighty enough words to express my gratitude for Giffords' grace and the example she has set for the nation about fortitude, faith and resilience elude me even now.
Gifford's smile today as she bid farewell (for now) to Congress, was far more eloquent than anything she — or anyone else — could have said.
I'll end this post with the words of the poet Robert Hass, who comes a bit closer than I was able to in articulating the enduring power of Giffords and her journey.
Maybe you need to write a poem about grace.
When everything broken is broken,and everything dead is dead,and the hero has looked into the mirror with complete contempt,and the heroine has studied her face and its defectsremorselessly, and the pain they thought might,as a token of their earnestness, release them from themselveshas lost its novelty and not released them,and they have begun to think, kindly and distantly,watching the others go about their days—likes and dislikes, reasons, habits, fears—that self-love is the one weedy stalkof every human blossoming, and understood,therefore, why they had been, all their lives,in such a fury to defend it, and that no one—except some almost inconceivable saint in his poolof poverty and silence—can escape this violent, automaticlife’s companion ever, maybe then, ordinary light,faint music under things, a hovering like grace appears.
— From the poem "Faint Music" by Robert Hass
Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @GodGrrl.