The Innocents

Dear readers, I’ve been busy.

First, I want you to know that, as of tomorrow, I will have seen my band perform, live and in the flesh, TWICE in the span of two weeks. And of course, I’m going to tell you all about it. Just not in this blog.

And second, I’m knee-deep in all things concerning Music Feeds America and have things to share. Just not in this blog.  However, I’m not too proud to remind you that I’m still eagerly accepting donations, so here’s the link to my GoFundMe page.

But I need to chronicle a different story first…

Last week, Mark and I set out on a whirlwind excursion north to Oklahoma City to see my Foos perform at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. It was going to be a fast trip, too; we would make the three-hour dash up I-35, see the show, then mosey on back to the Fort the next day.

With one other stop before we headed home. Someplace I needed to see again.

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember the events of April 19, 1995. At 9:02 a.m., a rolling incendiary device parked in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building exploded, bringing down a hailstorm of fire and debris, taking the lives of 168 people, and leaving hundreds more injured in the surrounding area.

Nineteen of those souls were children. Some had accompanied family members to various government offices housed there, but the majority of those little ones were spending the day at the on-site daycare center that served government employees.

As a mother of then nine and seven year-olds, I was haunted by those children for weeks after. I was particularly wrecked by two brothers who died together in that second-floor daycare center. Five year-old Aaron Coverdale, and his two year-old brother, Elijah. I’m not sure why it was those two little boys whose names stayed with me all these years, but they did. I cried many tears for them, and for all the innocent souls lost that day.

Five years later, in the fall of 2000, I was a fairly avid runner. I’d finished my first marathon the February before, and was thinking of running another one. I learned from some friends that Oklahoma City would be hosting its inaugural Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon in April of 2001, to honor the victims of the Murrah bombing. I didn’t hesitate. I signed up to run it just a few days after the event was announced.

Fast-forward to April 29, 2001. Dawn broke over Oklahoma City with a clear sky, and off we went. I ran the race with a group of fellow Texans who had connected online. Many of us had run races together in the years prior to OKC, but we all agreed that there was something special about this event.

The race began and ended at the site of the recently opened Oklahoma City National Memorial. I caught a quick glimpse at the start of the race. The area was beautiful and serene, but somber as well.

As we moved through the streets and neighborhoods of OKC, I began to notice the memorial banners. All along the course, light post banners hung, one for each of the 168 bombing victims. I remember taking special care to read every name as I passed under them. When I saw the banners for Aaron and Elijah, I felt a lump in my throat. But sometimes a tragedy will bear unexpected joy.

What struck me, as I ran through OKC, was the outpouring of love and appreciation from every person I encountered. On a marathon course, it’s not unusual to see people come out of their houses to watch the runners. Some people hand out water and snacks, or hold signs or shout words of encouragement. In this race, however, the overwhelming sentiment from the city’s residents and business owners was simple, and heartfelt:

Thank you!

I heard it over and over that day. They thanked us for coming to OKC, for running the race, for supporting their city, and for remembering, and honoring, their dead.

From a physical endurance perspective, the race was grueling for me. It gets warm in Oklahoma in late April, and the heat didn’t treat me well. I tanked at about mile 15 and had to walk a lot of the remaining distance. My running buddy Brian slowed down to accommodate me. I tried to get him to go on, but he refused. He didn’t care about his time, only that we would finish the race together.

And we did. It took us over six hours to do it. But we crossed the finish line side by side.

I’ll never forget that day.

Afterwards, I only had a few minutes to spend at the memorial. I was worn out and sweaty and hungry, and we still had a drive ahead of us that day. I vowed to come back for a longer visit another time. And last week, I got my chance.

Most of the components that make up the memorial were installed after the bombing, but a few things remain from the site as it originally was. Shortly after the bombing, a chain link fence was installed to keep people out of the blast site. Almost immediately, mourners came and left flowers, ribbons, stuffed animals, and cards on the fence. When the memorial was built, a portion of the fence remained, along with all the mementos left on it.

As we walked toward the western end of the memorial, the first thing I saw hanging from the fence was a purple and white banner from Fort Worth’s own Texas Christian University. Both my kids are TCU alums, and I was happy to see the flag. Way to represent, Horned Frogs!

And a few feet away, I found a collage tacked on to the fence. It was addressed to Aaron and Elijah Coverdale, and listed their birthdates and included some photographs. It was signed “Love, Grandma.” Instantly, the lump was back in my throat.

Once inside the Memorial’s boundaries, I was immediately drawn to the Field of Empty Chairs. There are so many touching and beautiful elements at the Memorial (read about them here), but nothing quite so compelling as this area. Located on the footprint of the Murrah Building itself, the grassy field holds 168 chairs sculpted of brass and glass, arranged in nine rows, one for each floor of the building. Each chair bears the name of someone killed on that floor.

Nineteen of the chairs are smaller in size. One small chair for each of the children who died there. When I found the chairs for Aaron and Elijah, I lost it. Mark did too. Those little chairs…

I thought about those two boys, forever frozen in time as little more than babies. They would be in their twenties now, starting their lives as adults, perhaps even having kids of their own. As would the 17 other children who died that day. If only the man who didn’t like the “tyrannical” actions of the U.S. government had chosen some other, more productive way to express his outrage.

But he didn’t. He chose to build a bomb. He chose to park it in front of the Murrah Building, and then run away, leaving a deadly calling card that took the lives of 168 souls who were just going about their day. He took those people from their families and loved ones. And for what?

If you ever have the urge to brand all terrorists as “un-American”, or to categorize them into a particular religious sect or skin color, just remind yourself of what happened in Oklahoma City that April day. A coward built a truck bomb and took 168 innocent lives. And he was white. And Catholic. And born right here in the U.S. of A. And unlike most terrorists who detonate bombs, he didn’t even have the balls to deliver the message himself.

So much hate. It boggles the mind. Thinking about it makes my heart ache. But the only real remedy for all the hate in the world is love. And kindness. And doing good for your fellow humans.

So do that. Love others. Be kind to one another. Lend a hand to someone who needs it. And don’t let the ugly things in the world destroy your faith in humanity. Remember the people of OKC.

I’ll leave you with this thought from another favorite band of mine.

So, don’t let the world bring you down
Not everyone here is that fucked up and cold
Remember why you came, and while you’re alive
Experience the warmth, before you grow old. (The Warmth, Incubus, 1999)

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2 thoughts on “The Innocents

  1. Just got around to reading this. I’ts been a busy time! Loved this Kelly. I’d been living in this country for just a short months when this happened. What a sad day. I remember it vividly. I’ve been to the Memorial on a few occasions and it is indeed a beautiful place. Those chairs just get me every time.

    Maggie

  2. Kelly, this touched me on so many levels, for so many reasons. Thank you for your beautiful words. I have met several people since moving here who were directly involved or personally touched by this day. I had taken Sarah to the doctor that day and we were in the waiting room when the breaking news came on. I will never forget it. Like 911, it is scorched in my brain. Beautiful tribute.

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