In a time where we throw around the term “violent rhetoric” on an almost daily basis, we seem to have forgotten what actual violence looks like, what actual violence can do to people. Steve Scalise hasn’t forgotten. Instead, he has devoted his new book to the men and women who came together after the Congressional baseball practice shooting to save his life and support him – a testimony on the importance of community in the face of violence.
As Scalise so frankly says in the book, “I’ve never in my life brought people together as effectively as I did when I was on the brink of death.”
I remember where I was on the morning of the shooting. I remember obsessively checking the news for more information, but more than anything, I remember the community everyone felt through prayers, through blood drives, through giving back at the Congressional Baseball Game. That’s what Scalise wants us to remember.
“This is what America is about. This is what America does,” Scalise wrote when detailing the outpouring of support blood drives and prayer groups received as he recovered. A year and a half after the attack, we will remember the heroes who saved Scalise’s life and, even more important, the way such a senseless act of violence brought the country together.
While Scalise’s personal journey is the primary focus of the book, he is not the only star. He and contributor Jeffrey Stern spend countless pages detailing the backstory and the hard work of the men and women who helped him, including the doctor who saw an injury in Afghanistan that mirrored Scalise’s (and therefore knew how to help him), and the detail security officers who fought back against the gunman. He also mentions the friends and family members who supported him during his recovery, specifically his wife Jennifer, and their two children. Steve Scalise is a hero, but he is not the hero of this story. Instead, he focuses on the heroic people around him, giving them the recognition they deserve.
Leading up to the traumatic moments on that baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia, Scalise talks of his excitement to join the GOP baseball team, and his friendship-meets-rivalry with another Louisiana Congressman known for being the other side’s best player, Cedric Richmond.
When the attack begins, Scalise details his thoughts, including an absolutely heartbreaking vision he had of his daughter walking alone down the aisle as he lay in the dirt of the field, unable to move his legs. The narrative storytelling is gripping. Even following the Congressman closely, I was unaware of how serious his condition was, and how touch-and-go he was for a long period of time. While Scalise grips you with his medical perils, he also lauds the medical team who worked tirelessly to not only keep him alive but to help him get better again.
When Steve Scalise returned to Congress on September 28, 2017, he was greeted with bipartisan cheers, hugs, handshakes, and support, which he compares to the feeling of having “triumphed over violence” and that “good had conquered evil.”
But maybe that feeling didn’t last. It’s easy to talk about “violent rhetoric” and a feeling of being constantly under attack, but men like Steve Scalise and the others on the field that day know what it is like to be under attack based on someone fed by violent rhetoric online. Scalise did not respond with more violent rhetoric, or by condemning the people that the gunman supported. Instead, he focused on community, support, and being a symbol of togetherness when the country could have splintered apart.
Through Scalise’s new book, which comes seventeen months after the shooting, is a poignant message of community that is echoed in the response we have seen to President George H.W. Bush’s passing. Partisan fights do not matter, and should not matter, when tragedy occurs. What really matters is how we reflect the American spirit in each other, because that is how we become heroes.
Aryssa is a graduate student at the University of Kentucky, an alumna of the National Journalism Center, and a contributor to the New Guard.