Last week, I had the rarefied opportunity to travel to Oklahoma City in connection with my new (volunteer) position as Cimarron County Emergency Management Deputy. I don't have enough lines and spaces to expound on all my adventures and experiences during the five days I was at our geographical state capital, but I must alight on a few of them - the ones that burrowed into my heart and left me with not only answers, but a few questions, as well.
In my near half century of living I had never visited our Capitol. Tuesday afternoon changed that! Along with Bonnie Miller (our county Director ) and other EM folks from across the state, I was there to spend time with our state legislators. But I spent more time with the art and architecture, exploring the nooks and crannies of the building. What a magnificent and grand government building we own! I say “we”, because a most gracious secretary told me the building belonged to all of us, when I shyly asked if it was okay that I study two gigantic oil paintings (one of a sod house and family) hanging in her office, which was located just off the splendid rotunda. If any of you ever have the chance, stop by our capitol and say “hi”. Like me, I think you will be mightily impressed.
Since my EM course didn't begin until Thursday, I was free to investigate the city Wednesday. That morning I went somewhere I had to go, even though I didn't want to go - the site where the Murrah building once stood. It is now called the OKC Memorial and Museum. I had been there once before, not long after the horrific bombing and before the landscape had been altered. This time, the sun was shining warmly upon me as I joined others silently walking along the edge of the reflecting pool that lies between two high gates. The east gate is marked with the time 9:01 - when life was still normal. The western gate says: 9:03 - when life was forever changed. Bells were softly ringing, and birds were sweetly singing, as I walked beside the 168 chairs that represent the lives that left earth that April morning, 1995. I knew I was walking on hallowed ground, even as I felt a deep sense of peace settle upon my soul.
I then walked through the doors of the Memorial Museum , and the sense of peace totally deserted me. My advice to you - go to the museum before you go to the reflecting pool! For you will be in great need of peace after you walk through the very effective reminder of what happened that April day. The museum isn't meant to soothe the soul - it is meant to brand the heart with the results of hate, anger and terrorism. And so it should! The final room I walked through was small and round, softly lit. In the middle of the room was a padded bench, and on that bench was a box of tissues. Upon the wall, all around me, were the faces of the men, women and children who were murdered that Spring morning. In front of each of their pictures was a small, personal memento representing their life. I looked at every one of the 168 faces. I stared into their brown, green and blue eyes, and noticed the smile that radiated from each beautiful face. I knew none of them, and yet I knew every one of them. They were you, me, our brother, our sister, our parent or child. And as I pulled a tissue from the box sitting on the bench, I wondered how many others had done the same before me. How many other hearts had cried for the faces upon the wall of this little round room? I left the museum then, not really seeing any other thing between that room and the exit. As I walked outside, I was so relieved to once again feel the warmth of the sun, and so thankful to once again hear the birds. But, to my ears and heart, God's little feathered creatures were no longer just singing - they were blessing me with sweet hymns of hope and healing.
I needed light and life after the Memorial, so I decided to visit the OKC Zoo. I wanted to check on my cousins - the gorillas. After letting a steady stream of young mothers with little children have their turn, I settled on a bench by the plexi-glass and said “hi”. As I quietly sat there, I became entranced by the primate's antics and poses - and also newly reminded how so like us they are! One youngster walked along a half-suspended log, then sat down and laid back on it, looking up at the sky between the wooden beams. He crossed his right leg over his left knee, and swung his right foot back and forth. Like any child, he slid his right arm beneath his head, and did a little daydreaming. Then he placed his furry arms across his tummy, and drummed his fingers against his arms. I knew what he was thinking, and he proved me right when he got up, climbed another log and reached his hands between the beams, seeking the blue sky (freedom) beyond them. As for the large silverback gorilla in the same enclosure? Well, he came close to the window, looked quite disdainfully into my eyes, and turned his back towards me. I didn't mind such posturing - I would be bored with humans, too, were I him. Even as I observed these intelligent creatures, I wished they were in their own world, but I also knew they might not be alive if they were free. So I shuttled all such ethical thoughts to the backside of my brain, took a relaxing breath, and just communed (yes, communed) with each gorilla. After awhile, with my equilibrium once again intact, I tapped the glass and said “goodbye until next time”. Then I arose, walked out into the sun-drenched world, and soon I was merging with traffic, on my way to who knows where.