I will never forget my mother’s weeping at the images on our television. Pictures of fireman carrying children, bodies bloodied and broken. A massive gaping hole in a building and rubble everywhere. The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City will always be the defining schism between my sheltered, peaceful childhood and the harsh ugliness of “the real world”. My innocence was lost on this day.
As a teenager, I did not fully grasp the magnitude of the event, nor understand how any human could intentionally inflict such horror on others, including babies. Unfortunately, the 20 years since have introduced to my consciousness the vast and seemingly boundless capacity people possess to destroy each other. It seems unfathomable that two decades have passed since this life altering tragedy. Twenty years.
I have visited the memorial in Oklahoma City. Quietly passing through the gates of time that mark the last minute of peace at 9:01, and the first moments of recovery at 9:03. Those gates mark my own life’s path, the moment in the middle changing my worldview forever.
I continued walking along the reflecting pool, my heart, welling with sorrow at the sight of 168 empty chairs, bursting forth in overwhelming anguish at the 19 miniature ones. At night, when I took in the memorial, the vacant chairs are lit from within and seem to float along the field. A truly touching tribute.
The survivor tree north of the memorial, and its inscription of “The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us.” brought me comfort and reminded me of my own roots, and the underpinning they provide during the roughest times of life.
My thoughts and prayers are with all the family and friends who lost loved ones twenty years ago today. With the first responders who so bravely worked to save lives on that day, and every day since. I don’t often dwell on ugliness, pain and sorrow. However, there are moments in life that serve as markers. Important reminders of how to live are bound up in the memories. Days that are significant in a way no others can be. Today is one of those days.