It couldn't have been more bittersweet. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords finally earned her step on TIME's 100 Most Influential People list this month. But even the list collators admitted she wasn't a household name before being shot in Tucson, Arizona by a deranged gunman named Jared Lee Loughner in January.
Fast forward three months, and the mention on a list that includes the likes of President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel is no doubt gratifying, but it's the news that Giffords will be able to attend the launch of husband Mark Kelly's space shuttle on Friday that dominates. No doubt, the doctors know best. If they think she can make it to the launch, they're the true experts. What's still an issue, however, is whether a woman cloistered from the public since the shooting should be put out in the public's eye now, when she's still far from recovered, far from being the "influential" person that TIME has purported her to be.
Because while Giffords has proven herself a fighter, her recovery from multiple gunshot wounds has been slow-going ... such that there has been serious debate over the logistics of getting her to Cape Canaveral. Armchair experts have been arguing for months that it was just a bad idea. Going to the launch in Florida will require taking a break from her rehabilitation, rehab that's gotten her to a point where she's speaking -- albeit in short, clipped sentences. Her doctors report she's been bowling and golfing (indoors) to re-develop her skills, and because the shooting affected the left side of her brain, Giffords has switched to using her left hand as doctors help her rebuild the right side of her body (controlled by the opposite side of the brain).
Again, the doctors know best. They say she's in the top 5 percent of people recovering from this type of injury -- not bad for a woman who was reported to be dead on the day of the shooting. And attending this event is important for her as half of a couple; to share in her husband's triumphs is part of being married. It's a coup for the couple as a whole, and Kelly is undoubtedly pumped to have his wife at his side for such an important moment.
But the timing of the TIME list is awkward. Released last week, followed by this week's appearance, there's pressure being put on Giffords to be that influential, awesome woman who has long represented the people of Arizona's 8th Congressional District. It was meant to be a positive thing -- a way to perhaps buoy her spirits and remind the nation that political rhetoric has gotten too heated. But it's pressure nevertheless on a woman who is fighting an uphill battle toward recovery -- because we live in an America that thrives on immediacy, that roots for the underdog but really prefers a winner in the end.
Giffords has done so well, I fear for her when the tabloids get a look-see. America had best be prepared for the Giffords who will attend, and not expect too much. She's still got a powerful mind (and doctors report her memory is intact), but she's in recovery mode. She shouldn't be pressured. With communication skills that Kelly terms "difficult," Giffords won't be ready to give a speech at the launch. She'll be there not as a Congresswoman but as a supportive spouse. Here's hoping the American people can separate the two.
Do you think people will be respectful and remember she's still in recovery at the shuttle launch?
Image via bill85704/Flickr