A year ago I went to a prayer and memorial service held by my synagogue soon after last year’s January 8 shootings. It was a comforting service, but also a strange one, surrounded by news media. Like the New York Times reporter who interviewed the woman sitting next to me, and when told said women’s son went to the University with Gabrielle Giffords, had to ask, “And which university is that?” Like the many others who waited outside our small synagogue’s doors, flashing cameras as we walked out of a quiet service, moving in close when they spotted a particularly moving hug, a gesture; scanning us as they searched for more people to interview, get soundbytes from. It’s a small synagogue, and seeing so many people from around the country there because to them it wasn’t a synagogue but a story was uncomfortable. Disconcerting. I wanted to tell them, we’re not here for you, we’re here for us.
So yesterday. That same synagogue had a service, not at our small building (“a small suburban synagogue, hidden among the saguaros,” one article described it as, though we’re well within the city and the saguaros are pretty sparse here) but beside a stream, staring up at the tall mountains of Sabino Canyon. It was a smaller service than the one a year ago–there are a lot of memorial and commemorative services in Tucson this weekend, including a larger interfaith one the congregation’s rabbi is also part of. No reporters this time, just a couple dozen of us who saw the service mentioned in the congregation’s newsletter, a few more who saw mentions in the local Jewish press. We sat on rocks, staring up at the mountains, listening to the stream, as we prayed, as we thought, as we talked a little about that day.
And I thought, this is Tucson and this is home, not whatever it is those reporters were looking for that day.
Sabino Canyon itself was pretty crowded, because all day yesterday there were outdoor events commemorating and remembering, organized by the family of Gabe Zimmerman, who died that day. The parking lot was overflowing, and I gather the overflow lot was overflowing, too.
And I also thought, as I walked a little bit deeper into the canyon to linger by the stream after the service was over: I love being in a town where people want to remember a tragedy by going out and hiking, running, painting desert watercolors, taking nature walks. This is Tucson, too, this place we love for both its people and its mountains.
There are more commemorative events today, the actual anniversary of the shootings, some of which no doubt are being covered nationally, but for me, a bit of community followed by a couple hours staring up at those mountains was just about right.