Two weeks after Jared Lee Loughner shot a bullet through her brain, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has already started standing and using an iPod.
Given the grim reality of traumatic brain injuries — particularly those caused by gunshot wounds — her rapid progress is remarkable. Simply by surviving, Giffords has already defied the odds. About two-thirds of people shot in the head die before reaching the hospital. Only about 10 percent of people survive at all; almost none retain all of their cognitive and motor skills.
It’s hard, then, to imagine Giffords escaping this incident without some degree of permanent impairment. A 9-millimeter bullet barreled through sections of her brain that control language, vision, and memory. Still, her progress to date — and the fact that the parts of the brain that control movement were largely spared — suggest she may well recover her motor skills completely or near completely.
If she does, I suspect that one of the first things she’ll want to do is get back in the saddle. As others have pointed out, Giffords was a dedicated and passionate cyclist. No matter the weather or the time, Giffords found the time to ride nearly every day.
In fact, the last night before the shooting she coaxed a friend out for an evening ride, stopping to snap this, in retrospect, heartbreaking photograph with her cell phone. Despite the cold temperatures that night, Giffords and her friend rode for about ten miles.
After the shooting, about 150 Tucson cyclists held a solemn vigil and ride in her honor. For Giffords, her family, and the rest of us, there is no fair or reasonable path forward in the face of such brutality. Yet, we have little choice but to find a way forward anyway.
Loughner, whether we like it or not, has succeeded in rubbing his particular brand of depravity in the nose of the nation in a way that we cannot escape or ignore. He will be impossible to forget, though his legacy will be only to remind us of our inability to manage the deranged.
So, here is an idea. When Giffords has the strength, she could lead a ride of the same route that she took the night before the shooting. The number of riders would surely swell into the thousands, probably tens of thousands. For, in Gifford’s case, what better way — both literally and symbolically — could there be to move beyond such evil than to cycle past it?