Sunday, March 21, 2010

Oklahoma City National Memorial

Last Thursday, March 11th, I needed to travel to Oklahoma City for business, and it marked the first time I'd traveled to OKC for almost five years.  My appointment was set to conclude at 4 p.m., but due to cutbacks in flights between OKC and Dallas, my return flight would not take off until 7:30 p.m.  I decided that as soon as my business concluded, I would take a walk from the Oklahoma County Administration Building to the Oklahoma City National Memorial which was only a few blocks to the north.  I had visited this memeorial several years earlier, and I found it very moving even before I had experienced the grief of losing Tina's father or Peter.  In my heart, I thought that this would be an appropriate place to reflect on the anniversary of Peter's passing.

The streets were fairly deserted at that hour with rush hour only an hour away, so my walk up Harvey Avenue to the memorial felt peaceful and brisk; it had rained earlier in the day, and the clouds still blocked the majority of the sun's direct rays.  When I arrived at the western end of the city block that makes up the memorial, I found the entrance through one of the Gates of Time blocked by maintenance signs, but I was allowed to enter the memorial through the northern entrance close to the museum.  I strolled along a well-groomed path past the still-dormant trees of the Rescuer's Orchard toward the Reflecting Pool and slowly walked eastward toward the other Gate of Time at the monument's eastern border.  The Gates of Time are meant to capture forever the two minutes between 9:01 a.m. and 9:03 a.m. of April 19th with the times engraven at the tops of each gate.  9:01 represents the end of the city's innocence, or the time before the attack, while 9:03 marks the beginning of the city's healing.  Everything withing the two gates symbolizes what took place on that grim day and the people who lost their lives when the Murrah Building became the target of domestic terrorism.  Overlooking the Reflecting Pool on a prominent point in the park stands a raised circular gathering area that surrounds the Survivor Tree, an American Elm that stood in the middle of a parking lot across the street from the Murrah Building before the bombing took place and miraculously survived the blast.  A group of high school students were singing and playing musical selections on their band instruments when I arrived, and their music gave my visit a very enjoyable atmosphere as I continued my stroll around the Reflecting Pool to face the Field of Empty Chairs.  The chairs occupy a grassy area where the Murrah Building once stood, and each of the 168 chairs represents one of the victims of the attack as well as their location within the building when the attack occurred.  I couldn't help but notice that along the second row, most of the chairs were child-sized; the day-care facility for the Murrah Building resided on the second floor, and nineteen little chairs stand as sad reminders that even small children can become victims of senseless violence.  At night, the bases of the chairs glow brightly so that all 168 chairs become beacons of hope.  I spoke briefly to one of the park rangers before moving once again to the northern side of the reflecting pool.  It was nearing 4:30, and I decided that I would stay until 4:38, the time of Peter's passing, yet I didn't want to be among inquisitive eyes when that moment arrived in case my emotions began to surface.  I eventually made my way to the southern end of the memorial where the Murrah Building's plaza still stood very much like it had when people walked past its concrete planters and benches en route to the building's entrance.  A low glass wall now stands in place of the Murrah Building's entrance, overlooking the Field of Empty Chairs, the Refelecting Pool, the Gates of Time, the Survivor Tree and the remainder of the memorial.  I thought about my brave little man and his empty bed at home, his blossoming apple tree in the back yard, and the gaping hole he left in my heart two years ago.  As expected, my tears came and went, and after drying my eyes and talking to Tina on the phone, I pulled my suit coat a little closer around me and walked back down Harvey Avenue toward a downtown parking garage and from there drove to the airport for my flight home.

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