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To mark International Women’s Day 2021, we’re celebrating some of our favorite women—with tributes from some of their favorite women. From Gabby Giffords to Judy Blume, these women have inspired us, moved us, and shown us that a better world is possible. We’ll be sharing their stories here all week. For more stories of women breaking barriers, get a copy of Glamour’s new book, Glamour: 30 Years of Women Who Have Reshaped the World.
This might not be a very traditional love letter. After all, our life together has been anything but conventional. Let’s start at the beginning: On our first date, you took me to visit the Arizona state prison in Florence. It was definitely not your average first date. That day, all of the qualities that make you so extraordinary shone through: your care for other people and your willingness to listen and learn. Your love for our beautiful state of Arizona, which you served in the state and federal legislatures. Your skepticism and your ready smile, that big laugh that just lifts everyone around you up with you. It was a great date.
After that unexpected beginning, I was hooked. In between training as an astronaut and trying to log as many flight hours as possible, I would visit you in Arizona. I remember those visits, not only for the anticipation of seeing you, but seeing the way you love Arizona—the mountains, the desert, the smell of creosote bushes when it rains—is powerful. And with you as my guide—on foot, on your bike, on your motorcycle in the old days—that landscape became a part of me too.
Years later I had to take another memorable flight to Arizona. On January 8, 2011, I got the call that you had been shot. I flew to Tucson from Houston, with my girls, Claudia and Claire, and my mom. By now most people know your story: how you defied the odds and lived. How you worked to be able to walk, to read, to ride your bike, to advocate for policy change—and to do it all using only your left hand. Your struggle to learn to speak again has inspired people all over the world, in part because you have shared it so courageously and openly. Your example has inspired others with new resolve, and you have shown people that there’s no hurdle so big they cannot make progress getting over it, because you never give up.
What people may not know is that even when finding the words may be difficult, you connect with people in ways that others cannot. Watching you communicate is like watching a symphony being played. The way you lean toward people, the way you gesture, the way you reach out to touch people, the way you use your eyes and your smile and your laugh. Your ability to find joy with your friends and family, to engage with your team on tough issues, to understand the hopes and dreams of people you’ve only just met, is a gift. I have learned so much from you.
You are the most curious and the most dedicated person I have ever met. In the last few years, you’ve continued to work relentlessly on your own recovery; dedicated yourself to the work of making the world a safer place; and been a loving and present wife, stepmother, sister, daughter, and friend. You’re even taking Spanish lessons and playing your French horn again. I’ve come to see that learning new things and pushing yourself to be open to new experiences isn’t something you do out of a sense of obligation. It’s clear to me that this attitude is a powerful source of joy, motivation, and energy for you.
I think part of the wonder and joy of a partnership like ours is that nothing is ever static. Our lives have changed in ways we never could have imagined, but what hasn’t changed is how you inspire me. I couldn’t have run for office if I hadn’t had the example of your service and leadership to guide me. And then the pandemic hit. But just as you always do, you looked a challenge in the face and decided to keep moving—to find joy, to embrace your purpose, to keep working. You confronted the unknown, as you’ve done before, and reached into that vast reservoir of determination and generosity once again.
Watching other people value that determination and inspiration has become a lovely, if unexpected, part of our life together. I’ve watched you accept the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award and Glamour’s Woman of the Year Award. I’ve even seen a Navy combat ship, the USS Gabrielle Giffords, be christened in your honor. Every year Emily’s List, a group that helped you run for office, gives an award called the Gabrielle Giffords Rising Star award to a woman in local office—someone whose smarts, dedication, and accomplishment recall yours. The first recipient was Stacey Abrams. When they call your name from the stage, Gabby, I’m telling you, it’s like the world tilts on its axis. Every time, the room rises to its feet and roars, “Gabby! Gabby!”
It fills me with pride to know that the person who shapes my life is such an important part of so many other lives. It is a reminder that you’re making history. I admire your commitment to service, before and after a tragedy changed your life; your humanity and empathy; the way you connect with everyone in the room. And your determination: your relentless pursuit of new adventures, progress, a better world. Your beauty and your joyfulness.
Gabby, I still remember the first time you took me to Bisbee, an old mining town south of Tucson near the Mexican border and one of your favorite places. We got south of Tombstone, and the sky just opened up in front of us. It felt as big and vast as what I’d seen out the window of the space shuttle. In Bisbee you had friends to see—like your friend who roasts his own beans at Bisbee Roasters and the other who runs Café Roka. Making that same drive together, with your favorite band Calexico’s song “Bisbee Blue” playing in the car, is one of my favorite things to do together. The road ahead, the sky limitless in front of us, Calexico singing “days with you, Bisbee Blue, shining like Bisbee blue, bring me back, Bisbee blue.”
With you, Gabby, there’s always adventure to be had, beauty to be seen, change to be made, and joy to be found.
United States senator Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) is a Navy combat veteran and a retired NASA astronaut. Gabby Giffords spent four years in the Arizona state legislature and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006. In 2011 she and several supporters were shot at a public event in an assassination attempt; she resigned from Congress in 2012. She and Kelly have been married since 2007.
Originally Appeared on Glamour