Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Oklahoma City

I have been to a few places where people have died simply because they are American – Pearl Harbor, Vicksburg, Breed’s Hill, and now Oklahoma City. My feelings are much the same when I am at any of them. Today is no different – sadness at the cataclysmic and needless loss of life, and anger at the forces and implementers of such hatred. It seems a simple enough message to you and I, yet so far out of reach of those who perpetuate it, still.

The site of the Murrah Building brings a different sort of sadness and rage. I have family near Oklahoma City. I learn that one of my cousins’ best friends’ wives is represented by a chair on the lawn where the building once stood. The chairs - smaller chairs representing the children – are arranged roughly in the places in the building where they died. The street where the deluded patriot set off his Ryder truck bomb is now a reflecting pool, with 2 large structures at either end of the street; 9:00 set on one, 9:03 on the other.
The other side of the street is landscaped, grass and block giant stair-steps, up to the preserved, scarred wall of the building that now houses the museum dedicated to the event. There’s a place dedicated to the children, and a section of chain-link fence left for people to leave toys, messages, and other personal remembrances. The church across the street has erected a statue of a weeping Jesus. It is America.
I remember the first hours after the bombing, and the gradual realization that this attack on the heartland was not by foreign terrorists, but by native sons. That they found it somehow necessary to deliver their dysfunctional act of upside-down heroism upon the unsuspecting, unarmed innocents inside should and does turn the stomach of anyone who might hear of it. To convince oneself to commit an act of cowardice, to feel oppressed and powerless to the point of violence – let this memorial stand for many things, let it also stand as a warning against those who have lost sight of the responsibilities that freedom brings.
I am not writing this as an authority on any subject; this is not my intent. I am an American. I was hurt on that day; today I pay my honor and remembrance to those whose lives were taken in full measure for my freedom. My continuing charge is to remember, learn, and then teach. I did not visit the museum this time. I am resolved to bring my son here, someday. He needs to know, as best that I and others can teach him, what right and wrong truly mean, the costs of intolerance and dogmatism, and the resolve of a nation to struggle for freedom, both without and within. I can teach him no less. I am an American.