Gabby's Neckrub; Love Never Fails

From her bed in the ICU, where she is making breathtaking progress in recovering from a point-blank gunshot wound to the head, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords understood that her husband Mark Kelly was weary and stressed – worn out in the way only concerns for our beloved can wear us out. And because she loves, too, Gabrielle Giffords demonstrated her comprehension of all her husband is feeling–she expressed her solidarity with him in all of their shared concerns–in the best way she could.

She gave her husband a neckrub:

On Sunday Giffords’ condition was upgraded from critical to serious, a day after doctors replaced Giffords’ breathing tube with a tracheotomy tube to allow her to breathe better and free her from the ventilator. Kelly told Sawyer that Giffords’ is now moving around enough to give him a back rub.

“[It is] so typical of her. She’s in the ICU. You know, gone through this traumatic injury. And she spent 10 minutes giving me a neck massage,” Kelly explained. “I keep tellin’ her. I’m like, ‘Gabby, you’re in the ICU. You know, you don’t need — you know, you don’t need to be doin’ this.’ But it’s so typical of her that no matter how bad the situation might be for her, you know, she’s lookin’ out for other people.”

This is what love calls us to:
to reach outside of ourselves, beyond our own interests and our own pains, in order to succor another – no matter what kind of shape we’re in, no matter if our world has been upended.

Doubtless Mark Kelly received not only heartful consolation but strength, reassurance, and genuine comfort and relief by his wife’s ministrations and that was incredibly important for him; doubtless it was important to Gabby, too, to know that she could offer this to him; we are never more empowered than when we are demonstrating our capacity to love, and when we allow love to move us through and beyond our greatest challenges.

Love never fails.

“. . . the great paradox of love is that for all the joy it brings, it also brings pain. Love and pain cannot exist exclusive of each other, and joy fits itself, somehow, between the two.”

God bless Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly and their family on the long journey they are embarked upon–a longer journey than any that Kelly, an astronaut, has ever contemplated. It will be a difficult road, fraught with frustration, imbued with mystery. What I have learned in my life, and from observing and sharing in the sicknesses of loved ones–especially the very grave sicknesses–is that if one has opened oneself up to that mystery, and has moved forward with a willingness to wonder at each new step, there are consolations of immense beauty to be experienced on the path. There is wisdom gained, and ultimately, an enlargement of that “capacity” to love–a transformative note. Such love begins to see beyond immediate pain and confusion, into the “plans of fullness”; love looks to reconcile faster, to release the grudges, to choose the way of forgiveness; love seeks the light, and prefers it to the dark.

If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.

And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated,

it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,

it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.

For we know partially and we prophesy partially,

but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.

At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.

So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
— 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13

Mark Kelly, in the ABC interview, lives out this passage in a way that should inspire us all:

“I’d probably see [the parents of the shooter]. You know, I don’t think it’s their fault. It’s not the parents fault. You know, I’d like to think I’m a person that’s, you know, somewhat forgiving. And, I mean, they’ve got to be hurting in this situation as much as much as anybody,” Kelly told Sawyer.

Re-reading those words of Saint Paul,
it occurs to me that our whole society–nearly mad with distrust of the “other,” enthralled with the “battle” for ideological supremacy–may have, all unintentionally, stepped too far away from love.

. . .It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated,
it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

No matter what is going on in the world, our first responsibility is always to that love, because it is the seat of Wisdom; it is where God resides. If we step away from love–no matter how justified we might feel in doing so–we have moved away from God.

We are in difficult days; everyone is itching for a fight. Some fights are essential; some just feel satisfying to engage in; some of them move us to give in to spite or malice. Some of the battles are righteous. At present, even the word “civility” is being debated and examined for coding or being offered as the soggiest of sops. As a nation and a people we are on a less personal path than Giffords and Kelly, but one that is just as challenging; we are engaged in an almost gleeful wrangle, where honor is sometimes being shunted aside for a prop-chair to the head, if that is what it takes to clear a perceived “enemy” off the road. These battles are part-and-parcel of sustaining a free society. But we need to remember the call to love, and to love those whom we’d rather not.

I surely don’t have the answers, and I’m just as guilty of spitting on my fists and jumping into the fray as anyone. And it’s not wrong to fight for what you think is right. But perhaps we’re supposed to do it while still assuming the best in each other – without malice, without grudges, without personal invective.

Living in the world as it is, with a first-duty to love; that’s the daily challenge, the daily cross we must take up, or we are lost – resounding gongs or a clashing cymbals, reverberating into nothingness.

When we whisper up a prayer for Gabby Giffords, let’s recall Paul’s beautiful, wise and essential instructions and pray too that we can absorb them enough to bring them into our battles, as the antidote to our worst instincts.

If love never fails, that means it must be the way to win.

Ross Douthat’s Scenes from a Marriage
Tucson and Us
The Face of Namrata Nyack
How Long is a Marriage?
The Vocation of Marriage

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Tony Rossi

    A beautiful reflection!

  • dymphna

    I think the reporters should be ashamed of themselves. Sticking a camera in this man’s face and asking him impudent questions is just wrong. He’s probably still in shock and doesn’t know what he’s saying.

  • Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle

    What a beautiful post, Elizabeth. Thank you for writing about our duty and privilege to LOVE!

    God bless!


  • Jennifer

    Elizabeth, you always say things so well, with such a piercing honesty. You’re always worth reading.

    Gabrielle’s recovery is so encouraging. Thank you, God.

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  • Pat Gohn

    I am reminded of St. Therese of Lisieux… the Little Flower’s words, “My vocation is to LOVE!” And may I give a hearty echo to your words that Love seeks Light. Amen!

  • ploome

    Considering that Gabby is Jewish, and Jewish by choice, it would have been appropriate you try to describe her love from her Jewish perspective.

    [But I don't know enough about the Jewish perspective to presume to describe that. Paul, however, was a Jew, and I imagine that the beauty and wisdom of his words had a foundation there. -admin]

  • ploome

    Your presumption is incorrect.

  • Manny

    While this is a nice blog entry, I’ve become over saturated with Gabby and her condition. At this point it begins to feel like voyerism and mawkish. Does the media need to put out every time she moves her eye lash? I think it’s time to give her and her family some space and let them recover. Sorry if I’m the skunk at the party here. ;)

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  • shana


    Perhaps coming to a Catholic portal, to a Catholic blog, one might very reasonably presume that discussion would take a decidedly Catholic turn. Its what Catholics tend to do, after all.

    But even still, if you have another perspective that you feel brings this situation more to light from a Jewish understanding, please share it.

    And why — and I’m asking in all sincerity — why is this Scripture not good enough for the situation described?

    Can you please share with us the proper Jewish perspective?

  • beethovenqueen

    I understand the lesson here, but shudder at the entire world receiving these minute-by-minute reports of Gifford’s recovery.

    What ever happened to private moments?

  • Maureen

    Moving right along… The other lesson to take from this is that, when you’re helpless and sad and totally subject to others, it can be very important and cheering to find a job to do or a courtesy to extend. Keeping your mind off yourself and on other people (in a good way) gives you strength and healing, and rests you as well.

    So if it doesn’t exhaust you, your loved ones need to let you do something. :)

  • Elaine

    Thank you so much Elizabeth for your beautiful words. I have been wrestling with when and how do I stand up for what I believe is right and is it wrong to be so worked up over something. My understanding from you is as long as I put love and respect the people I disagree with it should be okay.