Thursday, April 19, 2018

Shaken: On the Anniversary of the OKC Bombing

When it happened at 9:02 AM on April 19, 1995, I was living far away, in Tacoma, Washington. I had never been to Oklahoma. Nevertheless it shook me.

I had no idea that one day I would live just a few dozen miles north of the site of the attack, that when people asked me where my home was, I'd answer "Oklahoma." Nevertheless it shook me.

I didn't know that I would marry a woman who heard the explosion and felt the Earth shake under her feet, who would remember the hours and days that followed as a haze of stunned horror and moments of involuntary weeping. Nevertheless it shook me.

I did not imagine standing on the memorial site, looking at the the rows of graceful chairs representing the dead and then noticing all the little ones, the ones that stood for the children gone. Nevertheless it shook me.

I did not know that one day I would recognize the distinctive shape of the Survivor Tree, and that it would become for me a symbol of hope in the midst of devastation. But like the world I sat transfixed by the aftermath, unable to wrap my mind around what has happened.

It shook me because it struck in the heart of America--not some big city on the coast that you might imagine the target of terrorist violence, but a city in the heartland that stood for every American town. It was a place that said, "This can happen anywhere."

It shook me because the perpetrator was an American, a disaffected young man so filled with ideological rage and righteousness, so lost and clawing for purpose that he could embrace the delusion that meaning would spring from a war against his own country, his own people, that the deaths of innocents and the shattering of innocence would be some kind of vindication of his life. He was a terrorist who said, "I could come from anywhere."

For years I'd been a student of violence, an advocate of nonviolent methods of resolving conflicts. I'd spoken out against the way that Federal law enforcement agencies were handling the Branch Davidian standoff even before it reached its tragic culmination. But I never saw it coming. I never saw how that bungled siege might help turn an American veteran into a terrorist against his own people even as he imagined himself still a soldier in some righteous war. I never truly understood the power of ideology, wedded to the right psychology, to turn a human being into an agent of horror.

It shook me. And when I see the images and hear the stories, when I stand at the memorial site looking at what difference a single moment can make in the world, I am shaken still.

1 comment:

  1. I stand with you. Terrorism, either at home or abroad, is the antithesis to learning how to live together in peace, even amidst great ideological differences. Not forgetting the great pain of the past is important to embark on the ways that hopefully prevents that from happening again. The mental/spiritual amnesia of humans, unfortunately, is why I am still skeptical that we have not gotten the message on a large enough scale.