Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Oklahoma City National Memorial - Reflections, Resilience and Hope

By Keith Birmingham

It was 08:45 when I climbed into my truck, eased away from the fuel island and onto the access road. The morning commute was almost over. So, I was hoping for no problems going from the north side of Oklahoma City through downtown and south to Dallas. Clear blue skies, pleasant mid-spring temperatures and no traffic should have made for a perfect day of trucking.

My clock showed 09:02 as I approached the N. E. 10th  street exit. I was reaching up to turn my radio on when I caught a glimpse of black smoke just before the road dipped into a valley. As I headed up the next small hill in front of me an Oklahoma State Trooper blew past me in the hammer lane. When I topped the hill again I had a longer look at the giant cloud of smoke that seemed to be billowing out of  the north end of downtown Oklahoma City. The black and white state trooper’s car had already disappeared through the I-40/I-35 interchange. I figured he was headed to where the black smoke was coming from. By the time I went through the interchange, hitting I-40 and then splitting off to go south again on I -35 I had been passed by two more police cars. These were Oklahoma City Police vehicles, and they too were headed for the area consumed in black smoke. And, by now, the AM radio was talking about a large explosion, unsure about the cause.

The thought hit me that I should turn around. I figured somebody was going to be needing a lot of help. But, I was driving 80,000 pounds of steel and frozen meat down the highway.  It would be better, I thought, to keep my truck moving, and stay out of the way.

It has been more than 15 years since that nightmare unfolded in Oklahoma City. And, I think about that day, and September 11, 2001 almost every single day. And, yes - I still weep for those who lost their lives, and those who lost their loved ones. And, it often occurs to me that, most likely, somewhere between the truck stop and downtown Oklahoma City, I may have been within a hundred feet of Timothy McVeigh, the man who was convicted of, and the man who died for this crime. As he drove north out of town we may have met on I-35.

I have visited the outdoor part of the Oklahoma City National Memorial half-a-dozen times since it opened. I have been there three times now with camera in hand. All of my visits were short due to time constraints. And, each time I leave I know that I will be returning as soon as possible.

I usually enter the memorial from the west side, which faces Harvey Avenue. Harvey is a one way street going north. Along this street is a tribute fence, where visitors have placed mementos, letters, photographs, hand written prayers, and other tributes to those who died that day. Sixth Street runs east and west on the north end of the memorial complex. Fourth Street runs east and west on the south end of the memorial. Robinson Avenue is a one way street running south on the east side of the complex. The new federal building in on 6th Street, and on the west side of Harvey Avenue, facing south.  On the southeast corner of 5th and Harvey there is a statue of a “Weeping Jesus”.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum occupies the west end of the former Journal Records Building. The museum houses a memorial selling special gifts and keepsakes. The museum gives you a self-guided tour of the story behind April 19, 1995, giving you a background on terrorism in America, an audio of the actual explosion, the chaos that followed the aftermath of the explosion,

Visiting this memorial helps me sort things out, and puts life into perspective for me. It is where I go to renew promises to myself of living a life of meaning. It is where I go to thank God that I was born and raised among and by the people who died here. Each day I marvel at the resilience of the people of Oklahoma to go through April 19, 1995 and come out stronger than ever. I am 61 years old, and a veteran of the Vietnam War. I believe that if the events of April 19 and September 11 had not happened I would have gone to my grave not knowing the value of the time I am spending here. I can now look back on my life and honestly say I have been blessed to have a good one. But, each time I leave OCNM (the Oklahoma City National Memorial) I leave with the belief that I can do better. I think of this quote that has been said in many ways: “Your life will come down to this: you can wait for things to happen. You can wonder what or why things happened or did not happen. Or, you can make things happen!” And, I resolve to make things happen.

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