Monday, August 04, 2008

A Quiet Place

Despite claiming “we have been moving around the country with the Air Force for twenty years”, Blaine and I were actually stationed here at home, in OKC, for three of those years. We lived far from the base, and I rarely even went there …. I never used the commissary, or shopped at the BX, or any of that “military” stuff. Except for the fact Blaine got up and put on a uniform each day before going to work, I sort of forgot he was even in the military. It was just us, living back at home, near family and friends. It was pretty much awesome.

I worked then, too (imagine that!) as an insurance secretary at a family practice office. It was a good job, and I liked it. The office was located not too far from our house, also far from the base. I think people don’t always realize that Oklahoma City is actually a big city, space-wise …. spread far and wide. If you live on the northwest side of town, or in any of the suburbs on the northwest side of town ….. it’s a long stinking way to the southeast suburb-side of town, where the base is. Close to a forty minute drive, much of it ON the highway. (If you don’t believe me, let anyone who makes the commute every day show you their gas bill lately!!) And of course, downtown would be pretty much smack in the middle.

The doctor’s office, like I said, was about as far northwest as you could get at the time. It was a stand-alone building, located behind a strip mall that had a grocery store in it. In between the back of the grocery store and our building was a narrow alley where the 18-wheelers would back up to make their deliveries to the grocery store.

(Trust me, I really am going somewhere with this story.)

One morning, I was sitting in my private corner office, spacious cubicle, desk in the room I shared with several other women, and we heard, and felt, a sort of “boom” in our building. I looked at Nina, the girl who was sitting next to me, and she looked at me, and I started laughing. “My gosh,” I said, “I think one of those 18-wheelers just hit our building.” And she laughed and made some comment about truckers who drink that early in the morning shouldn’t drive.

A few minutes later, our phones started ringing.

Oh, in case I haven’t mentioned the date …… it was April 19, 1995.

Considering we were miles and miles from downtown and still felt the blast from the Murrah bombing, I can only imagine how much worse things must have gotten, the closer people got to the blast site. My mom worked a few blocks away and honestly thought a plane had crashed into their building. A girlfriend of mine worked across the street from the Murrah building with one building in between. She was running late for work that morning and was in her car in the parking lot when the bomb went off. The windows of every car in the parking lot exploded around her, but hers did not. She can only guess that perhaps the vibration of her still-running engine absorbed the blast. Regardless, she was only a few days away from starting her maternity leave, so she put her car in reverse, drove home, and never went back.

One of my co-workers lost a sister, and one of my school friends lost an uncle. Several of the patients at our family practice clinic were survivors, and we treated a few of them for minor injuries sustained, but nothing grave.

And that, really, was as close as I got. Not that I wasn’t impacted --- my gosh, I can’t imagine anyone who lived anywhere near Oklahoma City who wasn’t impacted by what happened, and by the rescue efforts that took place in the days afterwards. The human interest stories that came out it, and the stories of heroism and bravery, and sadness and loss …. personally, the memory of exactly where I was when the bomb went off is as vivid to me as the moment I heard Princess Diana had died in a car accident …. Or heard about the Challenger explosion …. Or (if I really want to date myself) the moment I heard President Reagan had been shot (eighth grade pre-algebra class, if you must know.)

Although I will never forgot those terrible days, and the stories of death and loss and faith and hope and miracles that came out of that time, and how I sat in front of the television, crying at the images of everyone killed ….. I guess my point is that I didn’t suffer any loss personally. Pretty much everyone knows someone who knows someone who was affected or involved in one way or the other …. Pretty much everybody can come up with a connection to the incident, whether it be a person who was “supposed” to be in the building that day, or a friend who had been downtown the day before, or a person who has a co-worker who has an aunt whose uncle’s brother’s best friends’ wife’s babysitter had been driving down that very street earlier that morning!!! ---- but none of those stories involved me personally, and I never wanted to be a hanger-on. You know who I’m talking about? Those people who seem to get off on finding a connection for themselves, no matter how small, to some crisis. Those people bug me. Which is perhaps why I had never made it a point to visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial on any of my visits home in the following years. I had *heard* about the Memorial Site, and certainly had it on my list of “places to visit now that I’m back home”. I just hadn’t made it a priority yet, because I didn’t feel like the tragedy had affected me personally.

What a mistake that was.

When our friends from Georgia were here visiting last week, I wanted to give them a bona-fide OKC tourist experience, so the Memorial Site was tops on our list. After all, it’s the top visitor attraction in the state, with hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Even better, I have a friend who works there personally, and she agreed to meet us downtown and show us around the site. Although there is a 30,000 sq foot museum, we agreed the kids might not understand or enjoy it (although “enjoy” is of course not the right word) as much as the adults, so we decided to just tour the outdoor site.

Wow.

Just wow.




Maybe it was actually seeing the one hundred sixty-eight chairs set up on the lawn where the building used to be; one chair for each of the victims --- large chairs for adults, small chairs for children. Maybe it was seeing the names inscribed on each of the chairs and knowing those people murdered were fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, grandmothers, friends, co-workers, a rescue worker ---- including two women who were pregnant. I realize that as far as numbers go, it’s a lot smaller than the loss of 9/11. But can you really compare numbers, when death is this tragic and unnecessary?




Maybe it was getting to visit the memorial with our very own personal tour guide, who was able to tell us about the site, and the stories and meaning behind the monuments, and the stories behind some of the victims and survivors as well.




It was definitely amazing. The care that goes into this place is unbelievable. Although there is some evidence of maintenance work taking place, well, it’s simply proof that the people behind the scenes refuse to let anything get sloppy or be kept in less than perfect condition. The site is beautiful and pristine; grounds are mowed weekly, early in the morning before too many people are present (the outdoor memorial is open 24 hours a day) and the grass around the 168 chairs is trimmed by hand, with clippers, every week. It’s like Stacey said, “You don’t think we’re letting anyone near those chairs with a weed whacker, do you???”






The story of the Survivor Tree is heart-warming; its presence inspiring. The building that was next to the Murrah building is now the museum …. Its pockmarked walls and bent fire railing a stark reminder of the violence that took place that day. Every window that is black is a window that was blown out in the explosion …. Best I could tell, that was every window.

It’s a reverent place, and restful, but one of hope. At least I felt that way. The grounds are beautiful. Always with an eye out for potential backgrounds for photos, I asked Stacey if it would be inappropriate to bring a camera for a portrait sessions --- apparently I’m not the first person to think that, as she said they see lots of photographers on the grounds. They’ve even had weddings at the Survivor Tree.

While I am sure there are some families who might find it too painful to visit, I would hope most people can see for themselves the care and respect and dignity that is present.

And I would wish the people of New York City could have the same thing.

As soon as the kids are back in school and I have a free day, I’m going back. To tour the museum and to hear one of the first-person accounts that take place every Friday until Labor Day.

Because even though “it didn’t affect me personally”, just visiting the memorial affected me as a person. I’m only sorry it took me so long to discover what an inspiring place it is.

32 comments:

Jackietex said...

I know what you mean when you don't feel you were affected personally. I remember sitting in front of the TV for days, just crying. Little Bayley was almost exactly the same age as one of my daughters and that famous photo broke my heart. We visited the memorial site before the museum was opened but I was still profoundly touched by the memorabilia fence, the chairs, the reflecting pool. And the statue of Jesus across the street--"Jesus wept." Such a sad memory.

Cate said...

When I lived in Dallas, one day I decided to take a road trip to Oklahoma City to, of all things, go mountain biking. Nudraper trail is very close to the Air Force base actually.

After I was done riding, I decided to go downtown and visit the memorial.

It is a quiet place. I was surprised at how small the Murrah building was, relatively. There are too many chairs. Chairs that shouldn't be there. Then to see the small chairs. That got to me along with little enclosed grassy area that was the daycare playground.

Plus, seeing the line where the bricks raised up on the building next door, I remember standing there looking at those torn bricks with tears in my eyes.

Once you see it, you'll never forget it.

Monica H said...

What a special place to honor those who passed. The chairs are a wonderful and thoughtful idea. If ever I'm there, I will definitely make a point to stop and tour this place and to remember those who died so tragically.

I like the chain link picture, so touching.

URBAN BLONDE said...

I remember that day vividly although I wasn't anywhere near, and in fact in another country (Canada).

We were living on the west coast and were in the process to moving where we live now. My husband was already working here so I left my two kids in the care of a relative while I flew out to join him to look for a house.

After two hectic days we finally decided on "the ONE" (our current home!) made the offer and had it accepted. When we got back to the hotel elated about our purchase we turned on the TV and there we saw the horror unfold. I remember crying for days after thinking about all the lives lost in particular all the innocent children. I couldn't wait to get back to my own children so I could hold them tight.

Thanks for sharing the pictures of the memorial, I have seen it in pictures before but it really means so much more to hear it described from someone who I feel I know (even if only through your blogging!)

Blondie

Natalie said...

Definitely one of those days I'll always remember where I was. How heartbreaking about the big and little chairs.


PS--I was in 7th grade math when Reagan was shot!

Haley said...

I have fragments of memories from the OKC bombing. I was at the age when my parents let me know what was happening in the world around, but still shielded me from the complete truth. I do remember thinking, in my thirteen year old mind, constantly about the children, wondering how someone could knowingly do that to innocent children. No one should ever be murdered, but when someone kills a child, it is just senseless.

Your tribute to the memorial makes me want to visit Oklahoma City so I can truly absorb what happened on that dreadful day. Simply seeing the pictures takes me back to the countless memorials I've visited in Europe, but then I'm reminded that what I'm looking at is on American soil.

lynne said...

Thank you for reminding me of the Oklahoma bombing, your photographs and words are very moving. As a Brit Sept 11th and our own London bombings had put it out of my mind. I'd like to give your hand a squeeze. All violence is senseless.

Melissa said...

I have a friend who was in Norman at the time of the explosion and he felt it!

I too agree that the Memorial site is amazing. I had the opportunity to see the bombing site before the memorial was built - the building was torn down but they hadn't started the memorial, and then again to see the actual Memorial. The chairs, one for each victim and the wall with the suriviors really make it hit home.

Trish in Va said...

The memorial is on my top 10 list of places I want to visit. I have been to ground zero in NYC. Tell me, do you get that same feeling of chills at the OKC site? I remember where I was on that day, too. we had just spent several fun days in California visiting Disneyland for spring break. Because I was at the time afraid of flying, we were traveling back to Philadelphia by train (we had gone to Cali that way as well). My uncle met us at the 30th St Station in Philly and asked if we had heard what happened. We had not been told- guess they didn't want anyone to freak out on the train.
Thanks for sharing the pictures.

The Running Girl said...

It really does look beautiful there now, despite the tragedy that took place. I should make a trip to see it (and then I could see you, too).

Mrs. Who said...

Thanks so much for sharing this. The horror of 9/11 has eclipsed this tragic event and this helps us realize that we should never forget what happened here.

hydrogeek said...

I only live a few hours from OKC and visited the outdoor memorial for the first time just a year or two ago. I could never have described it as well as you did. Thank you for the moving post.

Jacqueline said...

It is quite beautiful and touching, isn't it? I'm glad you finally went for a visit. I would suggest going at night...haunting, yet beautiful. Seeing the memorial, remembering how the entire state banded together at that time, makes me so proud to be an Oklahoman.

BaxtersMum said...

lovely post. absolutely wonderful.

lizinsumner said...

Well, I'm ashamed to say that I never made the connection before (you moving back to OK, the OKC bombing).....but, I would personally love it if, after you've made your kid-less visit to the museum, that you would write about it here and share it with us - I'd love to hear about it. I don't remember exactly where I was that day, being so far away, but I remember how I felt when I found out about it, that's for sure.

lizinsumner said...

By "connection", I only meant that you now live where the bombing happened......

Anonymous said...

Yes Kristi - I've been to visit the Memorial and it was one of the most moving experiences I've ever had. Make sure you visit the museum though because it is absolutely phenomenal - just gives you a real sense of the horror and the heroics that occurred on that day. I will never forget my visit. It is a heartfelt tribute to that awful tragedy. Obviously a lot of thought, care, and love was put into the Memorial to get it just right. You should be very proud of your city because this tribute is just perfect.

Joan in Mississippi

Anonymous said...

Kristi- That's a beautifully written and photographed post.

I remember that day so well. We went to work, but we couldn't leave the TV so we never really worked....we sat in stunned silence. I remember crying for days. For some reason that event hit me harder than anything before or since and we've lived through some horrific events the last 15 years.

I often wonder about some of the families we got to "know" and how they are. I hope they have found happiness again as I hope the families of 9/11 have.

P.S. I was walking across the college campus when we started hearing JFK had been shot. That's my first "I'll never forget" memory.

Dixie

Mom on the Run said...

I thought that was where you were going with your story. Thank you for sharing the photos. I have heard of the memorial, but never seen a photo.

I agree with you about waiting for the appropriate time to visit a memorial with children. My husband and I toured the Holocaust Museum in D.C. We live about an hour outside and felt it was time to visit. We walked in silence through the museum. In fact no one around us was talking. The displays were too graphic and heart-wrenching. My daughter then 10 was curious and asked us when she would be able to go. I think late teens would be right for her--she is mature for her age. I will have to talk to her about the Holocaust before I take her.

Lena said...

The site of those little chairs is so heart wrenching.

Anonymous said...

I was working the day of the OKC bombing, and found out about it after I got home from work. Seeing the firefighter holding that precious little Baylee just ripped my heart out. My own little girl was just a year old, and I couldn't begin to imagine what her mother was going through. I cried for days, and that is one image I will never forget. Such a senseless act of violence and selfishness.
Joann in AL

Hennifer said...

Thank you for sharing this post. I had just recently seen something on the news about the gifts that are left in the fence.

As my best friend lives in NYC and was personally impacted by 9/11 I think it is so sad that they have yet to figure out the best way to memorialize what happened there.

It has been a couple months I believe but I have finally made it through all your archives. Caringbridge, entry 1, through yesterdays post.

It has been a joy, priviledge and wonderful experience to share all you have shared.

I have laughed, cried, cried, laughed, sympathized and thought "wow, what a brilliant idea" about much you have shared.

You, along with Monica H, and the Pioneer Woman have inspired me to make photography more than a passing interest.

Thurs, Aug 7th, I will donate blood for the first time ever in honor of you, Kendrie and Blaine.

I'm needle shy but I know it is important and you've reaffirmed my desire to help in the ways I can.

Thank you. Looking forward to reading on with you at a less frenetic post now that I'm in day to day land

Tami said...

WOW!

Cindy said...

If you think the outside is moving, just wait until you tour the museum....it is so haunting. It pays a very respectful tribute to all who lost their lives and the families and friends left behind. The outside at night is breathtaking. A must see. I was drying my hair getting ready to take Justin to a Dr.'s appointment at Tinker. Needless to say, that appointment was cancelled. Monty worked in the triage tents downtown since he was in the Med Group. The blast in Yukon shook all the glass and windows in my house for several seconds. I thought it was an oil field explosion..........boy was I wrong.

Terri said...

As a born and bred Okie (raised in OKC), I was totally horrified when I heard about the bombing. I was a military wife at work in California. My boss, knowing I was from OKC, called me into her office and told me what happened. Then she took me to the O Club Bar where they had the big screens on showing the aftermath. I remember sitting there until someone finally put me in a car and drove me home. Over the next few days, I was scared to death to read the names of the deceased afraid I would know one or more. Little did I know that my cousin (who works for Oklahoma Gas & Electric) was missing for the first 2 days. (My mom didn't want to worry me.) That was one of Dwain's buildings and when he heard the explosion, he took off. He worked non-stop for almost a week.......but did remember that his wife (8 1/2 months pregnant) might worry and asked a Red Cross volunteer to call her on the 3rd day.

I must confess that I have still never read the names of the dead. I was always too scared that it would contain someone I went to school with or a neighbor. After reading your post, I'm going to the memorial website to read the list.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I visited the Memorial as we were PCS'ing from Kirtland AFB to Wright-Patterson AFB. It remains one of the most singly moving events of my life. While I remembered just where I was when I heard the news (at work as a nurse) and remembered how horrified I was by the images, nothing prepared me for how I would feel standing there on that site.


Kathleen

Anonymous said...

I was honored to chaperone a great group of students from NC to a land judging contest in OKC, we spent a few hours visiting the bombing site. It was all so touching, the memorial tree, the chairs, the chain link fence with all the memorials, the decorated tiles. I hope to be able to visit again someday with my husband. Thanks for reminding me of that visit, I just went back and looked at the pictures I had taken and it was like I was there again. Could you give us an update on Blaine? I hope all is going well with him.
Kathy

mom25in5 said...

Kristie;

Ya know, God has a way sometimes. I read this post about 15 minutes after I sat through a slideshow a friend sent me of Ground Zero, before and present. Beside me sat my 13 year old who was 9 days old when the Murrah building was bombed. At that time I sat, completely post-partum depressed, and cried. Tonight I shared some of that same feeling when 9/11 hit, and I thanked God that he was little at the time. I'd never done that with him, and he had questions that up until now he hadn't been able to articulate.

Tomorrow night I will sit with him and go through your blog entry. Because, like you, I realized that although this didn't affect me personally (I was still living in Canada so I was doubly removed) now that I consider myself more American than Canadian I need to share this history with him. It is his history and he needs to see it. I want him to know what an amazing country we have adopted for him, that even though he retains his Canadian citizenship he is American and his heart should be there.

Thank you for reminding me why my heart belongs here.

Hugs,

Kim

Hot-Mom-in-MO (the temp not my bod!) to:

Daniel-13
Scott-11
Bryan-almost 10
Sara-8
Dana-8

Diana893 said...

Kristie - thanks so much for sharing about this, I've always wanted to visit.

Regarding 9/11, I have always thought the same thing. If you're ever randomly in upstate NY though, the New York State Museum in Albany has part of its museum dedicated to 9/11. I was visiting my brother in Saratoga Springs and we decided to check in out one day, and much like you, I'm so glad we did - they have an actual firetruck that was in the middle, some of the steel from the buildings, and an amazing array of things that were recovered. I too took some pictures.

I hope to visit OKC again soon - I was in Norman for OU's graduation and we had dinner in OKC, but that was about it. Hopefully there will be something as poignant at Ground Zero in NYC - and I totally agree, death cannot be measured or compared.

Thanks again - hope all is well!

Anonymous said...

Well, we were in Wichita Falls when the bombing took place, and I was on my couch holding our first born son who was 6 months old. Being from OK and having all our family still there, my mind did wonder if everyone was ok, but my heart was torn to pieces. Nothing like a little naivity (however you spell that!) but I was only 26 and those things NEVER happened in the 'heartland'. Never. Never. Never. Ever. Oklahoma was a SAFE place. A bombing in a large, huge city with lots of world influence might not have been as hard to understand to me, but Oklahoma City? The place I used to go to for All-State choir...the place we would go to Wet-n-Wild? Frontier City? No...those kind of things didn't happen there. The memorial is BEAUTIFUL. You have reminded me that it's time to make a return trip with the kids to see it. We've been there a few times but it's time to return on our next warm trip to OK (next one is in December...too cold then) so that our kids NEVER forget what happened there. I just cut my 'Helping Hands in the Heartland' tee-shirt up to put on a memory quilt. I bought it 4 days after the blast when traveling through OKC (I'll never forget those search lights and the way they lit up the sky while they were searching) on the way 'home' to Ponca. It has a firefighter on his knees holding a baby and a nurse (for the nurse who died while helping others) standing behind him. Thanks for reminding me of that day...I will never forget but it does get pushed to the back of my mind. We mustn't ever forget.
Patricia, Garden City

(fairy) Godmother said...

a beautiful post... I remember that day vividly. Almost as vividly as I remember 9/11. I live in a NY suburb... I remember how numb I was when the events took place... I remember taking my 9 month old to the pediatrician that day and the streets were deserted... how eerily quiet it was... then hearing on the news how many people from our town and surounding towns had died or lost a father in the buildings... I grew up in NYC and nothing is left there but a giant hole. It IS terrible. I can see the downtown skyline sometimes and it still looks all wrong not to have the two towers soaring magesticaly in to the sky... it really sucks that there is no memorial yet... they are trying, but still...

Julie said...

I take my class to the memorial every other year. I teach a combo 7/8. Anyway, the Memorial is absolutely fabulously done. You will feel the same way about the museum that you felt about the grounds. Let me just tell you, you will relive that day and the days after in that museum. I was in college in Oklahoma at the time. I will never forget.