Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Sad Goodbye

I know that this post is supposed to be Part 2 of the Downward Email Spiral post, but I find myself needing to “respond,” or at least acknowledge the Tucson shooting on this blog - for so many reasons.

First, I called Tucson home for 4 years. I attended law school there, externed at the Court of Appeals, and worked for the Pima County Superior Court (which was Judge Roll’s first job as well). Some of my dearest friends are in Tucson, and dear family members almost attended the Giffords events. In other words, this shooting hit close to home, a home I thought was safe from the vitriol that permeates so much of Arizona. Tucson is a small community; what happens to one person happens to all. Reputations spread quickly, and this has always helped keep down the vitriol, especially among the legal community (as much as I often dislike what lawyers do, I have nothing but love for the Tucson legal community as a community). In such a small community, you have to keep some sense of respect for each other, because if you treat one person badly, everyone knows.

Second, a federal judge was killed. Although there had been death threats against him, and according to an article in The Atlantic, some people believe it is good that he has died, his death was nothing more than “being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” But what is being ignored in all of this is that a conservative judge just wanted to say hello to his friend, a liberal democrat. These were people who may have disagreed politically (though Judge Roll probably did not express his politics), but they recognized that humanity was more important than their political beliefs. Judge Roll was the only judge at the Tucson Federal Court with whom I did did not have a personal connection, either knew or have a friend working for him currently. That does not mean that his presence as one of the most respected jurists in the country did not affect me as a lawyer in Arizona, but especially in Tucson. In other words, this shooting hit close to home. But his tragic death was after he was on 24/7 protection by the Federal Marshals because of death threats resulting from his ruling on an immigration case. He could have just as easily been a target as an innocent bystander supporting a friend.

Finally, this was a shooting, something that can only happen when we choose to see people as “the other,” instead of as fellow human beings. On that note, I am not sure this is so much different than the Second Part of the email post. This is the final stage of vitriol and hate. I do not blame Sarah Palin, and others, who spread this hate, and I do not blame the tea party. This permeates deeper. The alleged shooter had mental health issues that were not addressed, and we live in a time where we cover issues with band-aids of various sorts, whether they be medications, prison, or ignorance. We do not reach out to those least fortunate among us. I am as “guilty” as anyone in this regard.

Yoga has helped me connect to people on a deeper level, to find community, to see everyone in their best light when I take the time to pay attention - to not see people as “the other.” But that has made these two days that much harder. Had I been disconnected, would I care as much? Would this hurt as much? Perhaps not. But what I have found is that even though I am no longer in Tucson, the community I have there is strong, and we are holding each other, if not physically, then certainly emotionally and spiritually. It was in Tucson that I tuned into my yoga practice, found a yoga community, and grew to hold that space as sacred in my life. Yesterday, the moment I heard Gabby was shot, my heart told me that Tucson is home. Once again, it all comes back to community. That community has made this easier, on some level. So yoga has been both sides of the sword - the deeper pain, but also the deeper appreciation for what I have, especially as so much of my Tucson community remains the legal community.

I am grateful that this happened while I am still in the country. I could not imagine this happening while I am halfway around the world. But as I write it, I know that we are in a time where nothing is out of the realm of possibility. I am heading to New Zealand to see how best to represent children in court, but also as a “citizen diplomat.” I find this phrase sort of silly, but on a deeper level, it is vital to our survival. What if we all acted as citizen diplomats? What if we all worried that each of our actions could one day wind up on wikileaks? Would we show more love? Would we spread less anger?

No one is perfect. If anything, yoga has taught me this on a daily basis, though as a lawyer, I am your typical Type-A perfectionist. But I can think of no greater gift we can give to one another and the world, than caring about everyone, at all times, whether we agree or disagree with them, and when we falter, to return as quickly as we can, even when we falter by getting angry at the person who cuts us off on the highway (which happens PLENTY in Phoenix). Let us not get caught up in blame and hate as a result of the Tucson shootings, but instead take Judge Roll and Gabby Giffords as examples - they were friends, conservative and liberal, yet friends. In all my time in Tucson, I never heard a person speak poorly of either one; they may be two of the most respected people I have ever indirectly, but closely indirectly, encountered.

Therefore, I offer this post as a prayer to all those injured and killed on January 8 in Tucson. I offer this post as a prayer that their pain, and ours, not be in vain. May we all learn to hold each other, across time and space, in our hearts, regardless of what we think of gay marriage, health care, the gold standard, and immigration. Most importantly, may we use this opportunity to see people as human beings and not as “others.” I offer this post as a prayer that as we interact in new ways, including by email, we remember that there are people receiving our words and thoughts, and we must be careful in how we act and hold each other.

As I say goodbye to Arizona, and the United States, I am saddened by the note upon which I am leaving, but I hope that we continue to hold each other, from our dearest friends, to random people, to those with whom we would rather not interact on a daily basis. We are all in this together. We only get one shot at it.

Blessings and Namaste.

© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved


  1. What a lovely posting. Thanks for sharing it and best wishes on your important citizen diplomat journey. Namaste to you and all.

  2. Thank you for writing this. It puts into words so many of my feelings.

  3. This is beautiful, Rebecca. Yet it also underscores the complexity of all of this, as there are increasing indications that this individual suffered from a psychotic mental disorder. He was never properly assessed or treated, and he may have been among the minority of mentally ill individuals who can be affected by violent language and imagery. And yet - given that these disorders often have biological components, it's also possible that he could have been treated with medication. No easy answers here. You will be a wonderful citizen diplomat - best wishes and Namaste.