Wednesday, March 24, 2010
We visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum a week ago today.
We were greeted by the words on the Gates of Time:
We come here to remember those who were killed.
Those who survived and those changed forever.
May all who leave here know the impact of violence.
May this memorial offer
Comfort, Strength, Peace, Hope and Serenity.
The memorial does offer all those things.
But it's not without some other emotions too:
Frustration ... Despair ... Confusion.
This was our second trip to the memorial. Randy & I had stopped at the outside portion of the memorial last June. We were on our way to Nashville to move Jill after her year at Vanderbilt and only had time to stretch our legs by walking around the outer grounds.
I wanted to go back to see the museum. I knew it would impact me. And it did.
The Oklahoma City bombing is one of those pivotal points in U.S. history.
I was a first grader when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. As a 6-year-old, I knew something had happened. But teachers didn't tell us. This was before the days of the 24/7 news cycle. It was before the Internet and televisions in schools. For first graders, the difficult task of explaining the unexplainable fell to our parents.
I was working in The Hutchinson News newsroom when the Challenger exploded. And I had to telephone a Kansas teacher who had wanted the spot that Christa McAuliffe had eventually earned. He had met McAuliffe during the interview process. He lost a friend that day.
I was working in the Stafford Middle/High School office on April 19, 1995, when the Oklahoma City bombing happened. I remember one of the students rushing to the office in a panic, saying that her mother and sister lived and worked in Oklahoma City.
Anyone at the age of reason will remember where they were on 9-11.
So, yes, we people on the periphery remember these moments.
The Gates of Time illustrate how quickly life can change. At 9:01 on April 19, 1995, it was a sunny, spring morning in Oklahoma City. People were at work at the Murrah Building, the Journal-Record building, and at nearby churches. Children were at the second floor day care center. People were applying for Social Security cards. There was a hearing at the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. It was just a regular day for regular people.
And then it was 9:03. And the world changed. It changed most dramatically for 168 victims, 19 of whom were children. It changed for the people who loved them.
And it changed for all of us.
For me, the most painful reminders were found in a room devoted to the victims. Each had a cubicle with a small memento that helped give a glimpse of their life stories.
One held a pacifier (and I remembered how Jill had been so attached to her "saa-soo," as she called it.)
One held a letter from a little boy, written painstakingly in neat pencil penmanship, saying how much he missed his mom.
Others held photos ... or angels ... or teddy bears.
These were children, moms, dads, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, grandparents, grandchildren, friends.
But even in the midst of the sadness, there were glimpses of hope. It was in the faces of survivors ... in the hands of rescuers ... in the prayers of a nation.
I saw it in the cross from a nearby church whose image was captured in the Reflecting Pool.
I saw it in the Survivor Tree. During most of our trip to Oklahoma City, the day was overcast. The sun came out just as we arrived. And it shone through the branches of the Survivor Tree. It gave just a hint of the green that will dominate the tree in June.
The Survivor Tree is a 90-year-old American elm that survived the bomb blast. The message around its perimeter reads: "The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us."
I even saw hope in the sea of empty chairs, one for each of the victims.
On our recent trip, the grass remained its winter brown.
But I had been there in the early summer, when a green blanket of grass represented new life and resurrection. And the evergreen framing the scene was present, no matter the season.
I saw hope in the American flag flying in the breeze.
I experienced Gratitude for the many who came to help
Yes, there are bad people in the world. Yes, there are situations that bring tears to our eyes. Yes, bad things happen to good people.
We come to remember. And we find Comfort, Strength, Peace, Hope and Serenity.