I did not live in Oklahoma City on April 19th, 1995. At 9:02 that morning, I was over 450 miles away and sitting at my desk inside Berrendo Middle School in Roswell, NM. There was nothing particularly unusual about my day. In fact, I have a hard time remembering what I was doing when I heard about the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building or how I first processed the news. Oklahoma was two states away and my middle school mind was more captivated by my social and athletic activities at the time.
Earlier this week, I visited the Oklahoma City National Museum and Memorial. While purchasing my ticket, the lady behind the cash register commented on the proximity of my home zip code when processing my payment. The truth began to sink in – I live less than two miles from where so many of my neighbors’ lives were changed forever. I was hopeful that my time in the museum would provide me with a greater perspective as a transplanted resident.
One of the first exhibits within the museum is called “A Hearing”. I took my seat next to two tourists as we listened to an official recording of a Oklahoma Water Resources Board meeting starting sharply at 9 am from April 19th, 1995. This routine ground water permit hearing took place across the street from the Murrah building. The room inside the museum had a makeshift desk with a demo audio recorder resting on the top. I found it hard not to imagine the faces of those sitting around the table nearly twenty years ago and how they were oblivious to the moving van loaded with 4,800 pounds of explosives arriving at 8:56 am.
I knew the sound of the explosion was coming and its inevitability made me restless. Like waiting for a Jack-In-the- Box toy to pop out with each turn of the crank, my mind agonized over the imminent blast. When it happened, somehow I was still caught off guard and jolted backwards. The faces of all 168 who lost their lives were flashed on the wall behind the desk. In an instant, a lifetime of pain and grieving for the surviving loved ones ensued. My eyes filled with tears as the doors opened to the next section of the museum where hanging TV’s relayed aerial video coverage from a news helicopter minutes after the bombing.
In other exhibits of the museum, I studied old pictures of downtown Oklahoma City trying to get a perspective of the exact location of the Murrah Building and other destroyed surrounding structures. From these images, I could better appreciate the transformation of my city documented in groups of pictures classified as before, during and after the existence of the Murrah Building. The face-lift and overall renaissance of the urban core is staggering and my family has benefitted from the improved quality of life that has transpired in the city’s center over the last few decades.
The reasons for the revitalization are no doubt multifactorial. However, I’d be amiss to not acknowledge the role this terrible tragedy continues to have in the life of my city. There is a grit and perseverance that must be recognized and respected in the DNA of OKC. At the top of the hill on the Memorial grounds stands a 90+ year-old American Elm. Although damaged in the bombing, the famous “Survivor Tree” is touted as a symbol of human resilience. The message to visitors reads: “The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us.”
Learning more about the stories of those who died and who survived the tragedy of April 19th, 1995 has been very impactful and inspiring to me. My church, located a few miles from downtown, has the following motto: Love God. Love People. Love the City. I’m learning that a love of the city is much deeper than merely an enjoyment of the amenities that the city offers. My heart is bound in a deeper way to those in my community by learning more about
their our tragic past.