The nation was looking ahead in optimism to a new year when a lone gunman approached Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona) at a constituent "meet and greet" at a Safeway supermarket and pulled the trigger at point-blank range. Her remarkable struggle for survival in the days, weeks, and months that followed was matched by the equally heroic efforts of her husband, a space shuttle astronaut gearing up for NASA's final shuttle flights later that spring.
Gabrielle Giffords was no stranger to threats of violence. Her vote in support of health care reform led to vandalism and an attack on her local office in March 2010. But was this coincidence or a foreshadowing of what was to come?
Gabrielle Giffords enjoyed getting out and meeting her constituents, and was looking forward to her January 8, 2011 "Congress on Your Corner" event at a Tucson area Safeway even though a protester at a previous one had dropped a gun he'd been carrying. Giffords' pro-health care reform vote was not universally popular within her district, but despite earlier threats nobody could have anticipated what would happen -- that her appearance would lead to the shooting of 25 people. With 6 dead, 18 injured, and a popular Democratic congresswoman lying in critical condition, many questioned if such violence had been triggered by bipartisanship.
In the aftermath of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, many politicians on both sides of the aisle rallied round the idea of a "return to civility" and an end to the heated rhetoric that had inflamed Washington, DC in recent months. But even as civility was loudly (if superficially) promoted, some remembered that Giffords had advised against escalating conflict, citing a controversial cross-hairs map courtesy of Sarah Palin which identified politicians and districts that conservatives should be "gunning" for.
A testament to the extraordinary power of friendship can be seen in one of the many stories surrounding Gabrielle Giffords' remarkable journey of recovery. During a visit by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in which the three women told Giffords she was inspiring a nation with her strength and courage, the Arizona congresswoman opened her eyes for the very first time.
In a November 2011 interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer -- Gabrielle Giffords' first since the shooting -- it was clear how extensive her brain injuries had been and how hard she'd worked to regain her speech and reconnect once again with the world around her. So why was she snubbed by TIME magazine's 2011 Person of the Year list, and why did a modern-day princess tale beat out Giffords' more inspiring story?