Class, strength exuded by Gabby Giffords

Gabrielle Giffords may have had a lot of thoughts she wanted to share during her recent appearance at Youngstown’s Stambaugh Auditorium. They were communicated with few words, though, from a woman who should be an inspiration to us all.

Giffords appeared with her husband, retired U.S. astronaut Mark Kelly, as part of the Youngstown State University Skeggs Lecture series.

By a fluke of timing, Giffords — the former Arizona congresswoman who suffered a near-death injury during a 2011 assassination attempt — was scheduled for the public speaking engagement one day after a mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school.

Since the 2011 assassination attempt, Giffords and her husband have authored two books: “Gabby,” which chronicled the shooting and her miraculous survival, and then “Enough: Our Fight to Keep America Safe from Gun Violence.”

No one would have been surprised to hear Giffords or Kelly take to the stage before an almost sold-out show Feb. 15 to rail against guns and violence, or to show bitterness in life.

But that was not the goal of this inspirational couple’s talk, and as such, there was little mention from the stage of gun control or of the 17 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School community members who were killed Feb. 14. In fact, Kelly made only a very brief reference to the suffering in Florida. Certainly, it was on their minds.

However, the couple spoke only of their long journey to recovery and how far Gabby has come. Giffords’ words were very limited, and she made not one reference to her near-death experience, seemingly focused on her future rather than looking back — at least not publicly.

Her appearance on the Stambaugh Auditorium stage was limited to just a few minutes — at the end of a powerful and, at times, humorous 90-minute talk by her husband. He spoke of the day his wife was shot, the emotional swings that came with inaccurate announcements on cable news stations, including CNN, that his wife had died. Then he spoke of his meetings with surgeons in coming days and his abrupt transition from equal partner in their high-powered marriage to caregiver.

Kelly spoke about the difficulty his brilliant, career-oriented and independent wife encountered as she worked through years of rehab, learning to overcome the new limitations brought by her injury. Likewise, the challenges were many for him because, in his words, he is not a patient person.

He also spoke by name of Christina-Taylor Green, a 9-year-old girl who died that day at the hands of the shooter who was targeting Giffords. Green, who was born on 9/11, had been in attendance the day Giffords was shot because she was waiting to ask Gabby a question about the Gulf oil spill.

“My wife Gabby would give her own life to bring back 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green,” Kelly said.

When Giffords finally took the stage, she was greeted, as expected, by powerful applause and a standing ovation. Kelly stood at his wife’s side as Giffords waved energetically with her left hand. She showed little ability to move her right hand, keeping it tucked at her side. She was dressed impeccably and wore gorgeous jewelry. But what was most noticeable to me? Her infectious smile that never stalled.

Together, this couple demonstrated strength and dedication. When Giffords finally spoke, she exuded courage and optimism.

“It’s been a long, hard haul, but I am optimistic,” Giffords said in a strong, clear voice. “My spirit is as strong as ever.”

She went on to encourage listeners to get involved in the community, to be a leader and to set an example.

What strong words from a woman who has seen so much in this sadly violent world! They are words to live by from an amazing woman who clearly practices what she preaches, who is an inspiration for summoning the courage, and maintaining class, through unquestionably challenging times as she heads down the path to new goals.