Sunday, April 17, 2005

Memories of April 19, 1995

I was in Cincinnati when the bombing happened, at the bedside of a very nice man who was in an intensive care unit and who had just been put on a ventilator. I was talking about his ordeal with his wife, who had no room in her own anxious heart for anything other than her beloved husband. I will never forget glancing up to the television set that was suspended over his bed and seeing a building with black smoke pouring out of it, and bloodied, dazed people walking and running and being carried away. Underneath the images, "Live: Oklahoma City."

I am from Norman. I went away to school, first on the East Coast, then in the Midwest, then on the West Coast. No one ever knew where Norman was, so I always said, "I'm from the Oklahoma City area." (Which was too frequently followed by, "Oklahoma...Doesn't that border California?") When the blast happened, I felt a personal connection, and yet I felt even more a fraud, as I didn't even know where the Murrah building was. This happened in my home, and yet what right did I have to claim it as such?

My parents knew someone killed in the bombing, and a librarian at the downtown library who used to do a story hour for the kids in the daycare. But my family and my friends were safe.

My niece, the first baby of her generation in my family, was born on the first of that month. I flew home to see her, and it happened to be right before the implosion of the building. For reasons I still can't completely sort out, it was very important to me to see the Murrah building in person. I went there the day before it was brought down.

I was struck first by the extent of destruction far beyond that building, especially by all the boarded up windows all over downtown. And then somehow, seeing the federal building helped me wrap my mind around what had happened. I needed to see where it was in relation to things I knew. I needed to see it life-sized, rather than the constant, in your face, up-close view shown by the national networks. I needed to see it as it was, a regular place where regular people worked on a regular day, where something very horrible had happened. Much like a funeral or a memorial service gives grief someplace to land, I felt like that site gave my grief someplace to rest.

When the bombing happened, I longed to be back in Oklahoma. I felt like a person out of the country while a loved one is seriously injured back home.

Less than a year after that day, I was making my way home again for another visit. A guy asked me where I was headed and I said, "Oklahoma City." His response was to say with a laugh, "Oh, Oklahoma City! Where the motto is 'Rent a Ryder and have a blast!'" I would have strangled him had I not been shocked by the callousness of his words.

I'm glad to be back home. Oklahoma City is my home now, my home of choice, and there's no place I would rather be.

My grief is nothing compared to that of the families and friends of the lost and injured. But it is there nonetheless. Last week, with the lecture by Rabbi Kushner, the grief started to make itself known with surprisingly fresh intensity. I feel drawn again to the Murrah site, to the Oklahoma City National Memorial. Thank you to all the people who worked to make it a place of beauty and peace and comfort.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you for the lovely posting. I remember very well the moment I had heard about the bombing on the radio during my drive to work, and your words are an appropriate testament to that terrible time. Thank you.

1:39 PM  

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