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Watching Gabrielle — Gabby — Giffords deliver the pledge of allegiance last night, I was teary and grateful: We are blessed by her public service.

living in gratitude©

She is showing us, a bit at a time, the long, slow journey to recovery.

She’s showing that it’s not easy, and that even for the most independent, it requires many helping hands — from medical and rehab teams to her husband, Mark Kelly, and, last night, a close friend, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee and Congress member for Florida.

We are blessed by Gabby Giffords’ courage in showing what it’s like to go from bald to blonde after brain surgery. We are blessed by her courage in showing how one’s body heals and adapts after traumatic assault and injury. We should all be grateful.

As a rehabilitation counselor who has worked with many returning vets from Iraq and Afghanistan, I can tell you this:  Many veterans are afraid of the stigma of being wounded at war.

No matter how heroic their deeds on the battlefield, they are made to feel ashamed of returning home “less than” they were before. This is one reason some veterans shun the “hero” label. We might be incredulous about this, but many don’t want to show the public their physical or, especially, their psychological wounds.

Gabby Giffords didn’t have that choice. Her attempted assassination was public. Her hospitalization and painful rehabilitation were public. All the photos of her wounding and struggle, her premature resignation from public office, are online.

Now, so is that megawatt grin again. Every time I see Gabby Giffords smile, I’m grateful because it’s so very reassuring.

The congresswoman’s courage in showing how one adapts to disability and keeps moving forward is far more than a public appearance at a political event. It’s an encouragement to anyone dealing with acquired disability, especially those who have served their country at war.

She shows wounded veterans that healing might take a long time and rehabilitation might be hard work, but it doesn’t require hiding.

America is about to see more than 30,000 troops come home from Afghanistan.

With that pledge of allegiance last night, Gabby Giffords had an unspoken message for all of them, for all of us: Don’t be afraid. I’m not.

We are blessed by Gabby Giffords’ public service. She’s only 42: This brave woman has not stopped serving the country to which she pledged allegiance so publicly.

Missed it? See the video and the public ovation that greeted her, on this Huffington Post report.