Through highs and lows, Pittsburgh a city of resilience

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We ecstatically waved Terrible Towels and sadly witnessed terrible events.

In victory, we lifted a championship cup above our heads. In despair, we raised our arms to the heavens.

We screamed with joy and wailed in horror.

All in the span of six months.

Between Feb. 1, when the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl, and Tuesday, when a gunman killed three women, wounded nine others and committed suicide in a Collier gym, the region has experienced a dizzying dance between the highest highs and lowest lows.

In an entire year, one or two of the events would be exceptional. To have them occur in half a year is stunning.

It began with the Super Bowl victory. In its wake, an estimated 300,000 joyous fans attended a Downtown parade Feb. 3 to celebrate the team's sixth NFL championship.

But any residual happiness evaporated April 4 when three Pittsburgh police officers were ambushed and killed responding to a domestic call in Stanton Heights.

Community sadness gave way to civic pride nearly two months later when the White House announced Pittsburgh would be the site of the G-20 summit Sept. 24-25. And then only 12 days later, on June 9, British magazine The Economist declared Pittsburgh the most livable city in the United States -- and 29th worldwide.

The positive feeling continued. Regional glee transformed into exultation three days later when the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup. On June 15, an estimated 350,000 fans honored their heroes with yet another championship parade Downtown.

And then, Tuesday's shooting rampage at the LA Fitness center in Collier swept the region back again from triumph to tragedy.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough said in a telephone interview that the events say nothing about his hometown per se, but are examples of the human condition being dramatically exposed in an unusual clustering.

"My initial reaction is that Pittsburgh is a big city and big cities are always going to be a turbulent mix of good and bad, hopeful and discouraging, exciting and heartbreaking.

"We're human beings. We are full of ecstasy and tragedy and accomplishment. Pittsburgh is a confluence point of virtue and evil, success and failure.

"The human story is vibrant in Pittsburgh and always has been. I'm talking from a very biased position, a love of that city, and I thank my lucky stars I grew up there and still have family connections there and am proud of it."

Such Pittsburgh pride is why the region reacts so intensely, whether the event is one of joy or sadness, said Rabbi Jamie Gibson, of Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill.

"We are a community with strong ethnic, religious, neighborhood ties. To go Downtown for a parade honoring the Steelers or Penguins is a joy. When we have to come and give support, aid and love to bounce back from tragedy, it does take a toll after a while, and yet Pittsburgh has shown tremendous resilience."

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato said the region is like one big neighborhood "that pulls together in good times and bad times. That's what makes our community so great, the unique ability to celebrate together and to help our neighbors when sad times are here."

Bishop David Zubik, of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, said the events of the past six months are a microcosm of life in general -- there is good and there is bad as well.

"I think those contrasts are so very real. It is what life really is. These are the extremes -- extreme joy and extreme struggles. It does say something that we had two major sporting victories in the same year. It says something that we went through two very deep community tragedies with April 4 and on Tuesday."

But, Bishop Zubik said, the area's character is the key to its ability to keep moving forward.

"We know hard work, we know the hard work it took to build this city and keep it going, and we know the great deal of work it takes to look for the sunshine in the midst of clouds.

"You see the goodness here. When the tragedies of April 4 or Aug. 4 happened, people came together. You see that as well with the exuberance of celebrating the Super Bowl and the Stanley Cup."

Whatever else fate holds in store for us, Pittsburgh will persevere, he said.

"I know that in the depths of my soul."


Michael A. Fuoco can be reached at mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.


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