In remembrance in Oklahoma City
OKLAHOMA CITY — When I learned that Friday was the 24th anniversary of the bombing, I made a mental note to visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum.
I didn't think, however, that I would be writing a column on the experience.
But I was moved by the exhibit, by the hundreds of people who came through during the 90 minutes I was there, by the resilience the citizens of Oklahoma City have shown in the 24 years since the tragedy.
The memorial and museum are built on the site where the bombing occurred, where the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building once stood, where the lives of 168 innocent victims were lost to the villainous act of a deranged psychopath.
(It surprised me that the killer's name is mentioned so freely in video and exhibits during the interactive, unguided tour, though I understand the necessity. His name won't be used here.)
The memorial yard was peaceful and beautiful on a sunny, breezy afternoon. By the gated entrance is a fence that once enclosed the crime scene, but now is decorated by visitors who have left various items in honor of the victims.
In the grassy area inside, many people brought flowers, wreaths and other items to place on the stone markers of the deceased. There is a reflecting pool, a children's plaza with a wall of hand-painted tiles from children throughout the world, and a survivor wall, commemorating the names of more than 600 people — many injured in the blast — who were in the area when it occurred.
I stood in line for 15 minutes to get into the museum, which was dedicated and opened in 2001. There are photos and videos and interactive screens and many remnants of destruction from that awful spring day in 1995. It's hard to believe one bomb — even one weighing 7,000 pounds when detonated — actually shattered glass in windows across a 10-mile radius.
It was a solemn, somber atmosphere inside the museum. There were people of all ages, races and colors, brought together to observe the anniversary of this unspeakable act against mankind. There were plenty of children with their parents, and even the little ones seemed to sense this was a place to keep quiet.
On the back side of the museum is what is known as the "Survivor Tree," a now near-century-old American Elm that was decimated by the blast. It was almost chopped down in the weeks afterward to recover pieces of evidence that hung from its branches and trunk. Officials determined it should remain, and it has stood since, today looking healthy and serving as a symbol that the human spirit can rise above all evil.
I stood at the foot of the tree for a couple of moments and thought about the damage the bombing did, not just to buildings but to the psyche of the people of Oklahoma City, the families of the victims, and their innocence in all of this.
A woman with a camera around her neck joined me. She is a native of the city, born and raised, and told me of all the reconstruction that has occurred to the buildings in the area since then. It's impressive. Downtown Oklahoma City is growing and thriving, and the citizens have moved beyond the bombing, though they'll never forget.
In a few minutes I'll walk to Chesapeake Energy Arena to cover Game 3 of the first-round NBA playoff series between the Trail Blazers and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Many people take these games seriously. For the coaches, players and other personnel of the teams, it's their livelihood. For the fans who will watch in the arena or on television, it's a passion, or at least a diversion from the day-to-day pressures of the proverbial rat race.
It's not a bad idea, though, to step back for a moment. While we're talking about and debating the merits, or lack thereof, of Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook and 3-point shooting and Steven Adams' blind-side picks, let's remember that basketball is only a game.
Scribes often use the phrase "live and die" to describe the devotion of some fans to their teams. The people of Oklahoma City understand the hyperbole. I'm reminded of that, too, after the visit to the National Memorial & Museum.