went to Oklahoma City today. And it is beautiful. But, you ask, don't you live
in Oklahoma City? I do. But I very rarely go downtown. Today I did, and I was
very impressed! I went for a meeting and I guess it was cancelled. At the risk
of revealing my basic insecurity I will tell you that I was a little embarrassed
to go back to the parking garage after leaving my car there only ten minutes.
So I wandered.
It was a beautiful, crisp morning. Everything looked clean
and bright. A farmer's market was set up and there was a band playing. Everyone
looked happy and nodded or smiled in greeting. I found myself grinning and thrilled,
the way I feel when I am in Manhattan. I did not hesitate to crane my neck up
to look at the tall, beautiful buildings, both historic and new. I could smell
meat grilling, there was sculpture and new construction, beautiful landscaping,
bright sun and a cool breeze. There were handsome men in suits and men in cowboy
boots and men in t-shirts and jeans. There were women in beautifully tailored
business suits, yoga clothes and light fall skirts and blouses. I had a grand
Finally, deciding that a decent interval had passed, I went back
and retrieved my car. I felt rather cosmopolitan as I slipped the attendant a
buck, just as smooth as glass, and enjoyed noticing the equally smooth way he
slipped it into his pocket. Just like I used a parking garage every day. Fancy
I left downtown for my own neighborhood, not so far away, I drove past the Oklahoma
City National Memorial. On a whim, I decided to stop. There are two tall black
walls called The Gates of Time. One is inscribed 9:01 for the moment before the
blast on April 19, 1995 which destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building,
and the other inscribed 9:03 for the moment after. Between the two gates is a
long reflecting pool. On the grassy bank to the south of the pool are 168 bronze
chairs resting on glass pedestals. Each chair is inscribed with the name of one
of the people who died in the blast. There are 19 small chairs for the 19 little
children who were killed.
I wandered down the walk, past the chairs. All
those chairs. I felt a bit teary, but also thankful to be alive and to be enjoying
the sun and the grass and the gleam of the water, the murmur of it and the call
of a mockingbird. I remembered a little about that day.
worked the night shift and was sleeping in bed with my youngest son who was 19
months old. I remember being awakened by the blast, how the windows rattled, although
our house is three miles away. It was so loud that I woke up thinking that the
boiler of the elementary school across the street had blown up. I looked out the
window and the school was fine. I went back to bed and cuddled Andrew. A few minutes
later the phone rang. It was my husband calling to say that, "something bad has
happened downtown. You may need to go to work." As soon as I hung up the phone
it rang again. It was the secretary on the med-surg unit where I worked. "This
is a Code Black. You are required to be prepared to come to work. Stay where you
can be reached by phone."
"Norma?" I asked, "is that you? What's going
"It's a Code Black, Liz. There's been a disaster and we may need
to call the night shift in to work later."
"But Norma, who will watch
"That's your problem, Liz."
And that is when I knew that
something truly terrible had happened, because I knew Norma to be one of the kindest,
most gentle people I had ever met. This morning she was all business, and none
of it was good.
By 10:00 my step-daughter Anne had arrived ready to watch Andy. I left for the
hospital with the car radio on. I was at 13th and Harvey when I heard on the radio,
"Someone who knows CPR is needed at the corner of Harvey and 6th St. I repeat,
someone who knows CPR is needed at the corner of Harvey and 6th St." I turned
south onto Harvey, my heart hammering. But Harvey is one way going north and it
was filled with cars leaving downtown. I was confused and frightened and didn't
know what to do. I pulled the car into an empty lot on the corner and turned around.
I went on to the hospital, trusting and hoping that someone else was able to help.
I don't know what happened, if someone was there to help. I hope so.
By the time I got to University Hospital the cafeteria had been transformed into
a huge emergency room. I went up to the 10th floor where I worked to see if I
was needed, and was told that I should go on to St. Anthony's Hospital which is
nearer the blast sight.
As I neared St. Anthony's my shock deepened. Everywhere
were people wandering slack faced, streaked in dirt and blood. I saw one man sitting
on a wall with his hands hanging limp between his knees, his tie loosened, covered
When I got to St. Anthony's I was sent to the gymnasium of the
mental health center. It was full to overflowing with healthcare workers who had
got there as fast as they could. I waited two hours and then went and asked the
lady who was taking our names and professions if it would be alright to go home,
because I had to go to work that night. She said it was.
however, eleven years later, I wasn't thinking too much about April 19, 1995,
despite where I was. I only wandered, vaguely aware of the bright sun on my head
and the fall smell of the breeze.
I decided to go to the museum. I had
not been before. I went in and was met at the elevator by a pleasant volunteer
who directed me to the third floor.
museum is like no other I have seen. You start by walking through a gallery on
the third floor which shows what was going on that morning, around town. There
is some art, some framed newspapers, there is a recording playing of people starting
Next you go into a room and sit on a bench. There is a large
table cut in half diagonally in the room and chairs. There is a recording playing
of a meeting being brought to order. As I listened to the beginning of that meeting,
to the calm, normal voice of the speaker, my chest began to tighten. I realized
that I was listening to a real recording. And what I expected came, but my expectation
did not lessen my shock. The sound of the explosion seemed to go on and on and
on. The lights flashed. We visitors heard the voices on the tape, the voice of
an amazingly cool headed woman directing the members of the meeting to safety.
It was horrible.
The next gallery is a series of cases with objects. A
pile of watches. A pile of key rings. A pile of glasses. Worst of all a pile of
shoes. And I could not be there any more. I hurried down the stairs and around
unseeing through the second floor. Another volunteer directed me to the exit and
soon I was out in the fresh fall air hurrying to my car.
As I drove home
I wondered why the piles of watches, glasses, shoes? It was horrible. Sickening.
Devastating. And then I realized. It was not the intent of the designers that
we should see that exhibit and be detached. It was not an exhibit designed to
make us feel better. It was a tribute and a memorial to our pain and loss and
If I had been able to stay, I might have found comfort and healing
as I progressed through the museum. I suspect that this is so. Someday I will
go back to see the rest. But today, going in there without preparing my heart
or my mind for what I might expect to see, it was too much for me.
that I wanted to tell you about this, though I am not sure why. Maybe because
it is nearly Sept. 11. I don't know. Before I started writing I did a quotation
search. The word I chose to search, without thinking about it, was "triumphant."
I found this by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and I think it is just right:
Our hearts, our hopes, our prayers, our tears,
Our faith triumphant o'er our
fears . . .