Where were you when…?
On the morning of April 19, 1995, I was at work at an office job when I overheard colleagues talking about a bombing somewhere. I was slightly more than 8 months pregnant with my first child. 450 miles away, my sister-in-law was at home, taking a personal day off from her job in the Murrah Federal Building.
Neither my husband nor I knew she hadn’t gone in that day. We had no cell phones. Phone lines were jammed; we couldn’t reach anyone in Oklahoma. There was email, but it was accessed through dial-up connections – same problem.
As everyone in my building listened to their different news sources and conferred back about the latest, the pit of despair began to seem bottomless. A daycare in the building? I put my hand on my belly, feeling my baby kick, willing the report to be wrong.
Finally, in the afternoon, news from my husband. He’d heard from his mom. His sister had not been in the building. She was alive. But her best friend died, leaving behind two small children. Several other people she knew perished, as well. I can’t fathom losing several friends and coworkers all on the same day.
I have a confession. The Oklahoma City bombing shook me more than 9/11 did. I’m not sure that’s true for many Americans. Is there a hierarchy of terribleness? I don’t know. Both events sent shock waves through my life. But Oklahoma is in the midwest. It’s not supposed to happen here. I had never been to New York (still haven’t), but had spent considerable time in OKC. I’d seen the Murrah building with my own eyes. Worse, I’ve met people who sounded a lot like Tim McVeigh.
The images flooding the news over the following weeks prompted a river of tears. Into what kind of world was I bringing a child? And how would I ever keep my baby safe? I can still be reduced to a puddle if I think about it much, the knowledge that acts of terrorism can happen close to home. Then there’s the “evil walked among us and we didn’t even know” feeling about the perpetrators.
My family has visited OKC several times in the last two decades, but not until a couple of years ago did we visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial. The word “moving” doesn’t touch the depth of feeling it evokes.
My sister-in-law pointed out that nobody will ever be able to give an accurate number of lives lost. She told us of an acquaintance who committed suicide several months later in the wake of the trauma. Yet his name isn’t included on the roll of the dead from the bombing.
I don’t want to try to imagine what these years would have been like without my sister-in-law. I’m grateful for her always, but it’s often a low-level gratitude. Anniversaries like this bring it vividly to the forefront. My husband’s father died much too young, and his sister, as the oldest child, has worked to be the emotional, and often logistical, support for her siblings and their families. She’s one of those rare people who is so solidly there for everyone.
How about this, y’all? How about we all try to treat each other with love and compassion? How about we try to live together instead of killing each other?