On April 19th, 1995 Timothy McVeigh parked a Ryder truck in front of the Edward R. Murrow Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City and ended the lives of 168 people, forever changing the landscape of our city. Each year marathon runners from all over the world come to race in the Memorial Marathon.
It has taken Oklahomans a while to recover from the tragedy, and many families are still living with the horrors of that day, but in true Oklahoma fashion we know how to remember those victims by running a half-marathon in their honor. My brother-in-law and nephew were two of the runners on Sunday the 28th. Jeff and Colby Dover are from Stigler Oklahoma, and even though that small town is far from the blast site, the bombing affected them as well. The group from Stigler posed around the chair of Pam Cleveland Argo who was one of the 168 victims. They race in her honor. There were even a few runners in the race from Boston.
I remember what I was doing that day, much like people talk about what they were doing when the planes hit the twin towers or when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Traumatic events do that to us.
I was sitting in my Drama as Literature class at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Oklahoma, which is located an hour away from the blast zone. The window was open on the classroom and it was a sunny spring day…and then we heard what sounded like thunder. I finished class, walked directly to my car and proceeded to drive to Blockbuster video to return a film I had rented. When I arrived I found the clerks returning video tapes to shelves because the shock wave from the blast had knocked many of them in the floor. That is when I stopped to gaze at a television in the center of the store which was broadcasting a helicopter view of the disaster.
It is almost 20 years later and the memorial our state has built is beautiful. It is reverent and peaceful, and is guarded by the two gates which read simply the unspoken time between which all of those innocent people, many of them children in a day care on the first floor, lost their lives: 9:01-9:03.
I am writing about this today because it is events like this that make me a better writer. This world is full of horrid tragedy, and it is good to see people coming together to celebrate life in a place that is such a marker for death. These events make me a better writer because life is not all happy and filled with rainbows. Sometimes terrible things happen and then you find yourself explaining to your children (who have never visited the memorial) what all of the empty chairs mean which sit peacefully on the grassy slope on the south side of the reflecting pool.
“Why did those men do that?” asks my 7 year old. “I just don’t understand, Daddy.”
“I don’t either, honey,” I say to her. “Sometimes there are things that defy our understanding. All we can do is love each other and try to help others see the love that we have for them…and mean it.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” she mused, sitting on the green grass. “It’s just so sad.”
The Memorial Run saw over 1000 runners and thousands more spectators. My brother-in-law finished the half in just under two hours. Guy puts me to shame. I haven’t started running, but maybe I’ll do it. Little victories, I suppose. Maybe next year I can run in the race with them.
I’d better get started.