Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the Murrah Bombing, an event that has particular importance to anyone who lived in/around Oklahoma City on April 19th 1995, and for everyone else in America I feel like it’s just another “oh, let’s remember that tragedy again via never-ending footage on CNN” day.
Of which this country has many.
There’s no real need to delve back through the memories or feelings or recollections of what April 19th 1995 meant to me, as I was in 7th grade and the “memories” I have now are the “shared memories” that have evolved over time, the same “memories” that every middle school student in OKC has, even if they don’t tacitly remember what happened at the time. Because at the time, you don’t think, “wow, the door just rattled, I must remember this for the rest of my life for the preserved historical record.” Instead it turns into something you say 15 years later: “I was sitting in Mr. Brent’s social studies class at 9:02 when the doors and windows rattled. I knew then something was amiss in the world. That was the day I lost my innocence.”
But at the time, we were seventh graders, none of us had cell phones or mobile devices or laptops or the Internet. We weren’t tapped into twitter and facebook and 24 hour news cycles and blogs. We weren’t connected to the world at large not because we couldn’t be as much as we didn’t have to be. As a seventh grader at Hefner Middle School in Oklahoma City, our greatest daily tragedies included missing the bus to or from school, what we would eat if they ran out of Pizza Hut pizza in the cafeteria, or who would play pop-a-shot with us at lunch. If drugs or sex or gang violence existed then, I wasn’t aware of it. We were sheltered. (Most kids I knew weren’t allowed to watch MTV or rated R movies. They did, anyways, but they weren’t allowed to. And this was when MTV showed music, not a cavalcade of reality stars trying to have sex with other reality stars.)
We went about our morning, and at some point an announcement was made, what was said, who can say. Again we weren’t living in a defined historical moment, at least, not one we knew of then. At some point someone said, “Something happened downtown.” For me, downtown was a world away from Northwest Oklahoma City. It was somewhere you went for New Years Eve. They didn’t have baseball or NBA or even, really, Bricktown down there at that point. I think I would have been more affected if someone had said, “Something happened at Quail Springs Mall.”
If they told us a bomb went off, it didn’t register with any sense of impending dread, or at least I didn’t feel like we were told what really happened. I’m kindof positive that kids were allowed to call their parents, and I’m mostly positive teachers whispered in hushed tones. What did they know versus what they would tell us? Do I remember Mr. Brent telling out social studies class something about what happened, then saying something to settle our anxieties? Did he lead us in prayer? Did they ask us if any of our parents worked downtown, and then let those kids go to the office to make a phone call which would shape the rest of their lives?
I don’t remember. I’d like to say I remember not understanding what was going on, but I don’t even know if that was true.
It wasn’t until school let out, at the normal time, and I caught the bus home, and I turned on the TV to see what all the fuss was about. And it was on every channel, and it was loud and chaotic and it was real.
And that’s when you see the images that are ingrained in our consciousness and that were already there, thanks to Hollywood, and continue to be there, thanks to Hollywood and continued terrorism both foreign and domestic.
Smoke pouring from the ruined and twisted husk of a building, a building I don’t remember ever visiting or knowing even existed. Firefighters and newsmen and police and, just, people pouring in and over wreckage and debris. Did I see the ash-covered fireman cradling the baby live or just in pictures later? What of the Murrah Bombing do I remember and what of it do I just think I remember?
I know my mother was out of town at a conference. I know my father, at that time working somewhere near 3434 West Reno (near Mathis Bros), had every window in his office blown out. I know my brothers were on a field trip to see some orchestra or musical event downtown, an event that only later revealed itself to be important, should they have chosen to blow up the Civic Center with all of its elementary school kids. I remember getting calls at the house from relatives and family friends I never talked to and never heard of and probably haven’t talked to since. And I remember my grandmother, my mother’s mother, coming down to take care of us that night.
And I went to school the next day. And the day after.
And a year later we had a minute of remembrance at 9:02 am.
And three years and one day after that, at close to the exact same time, I remember our high school going on some sort of lock-down because two kids in Columbine, CO turned their high school into a shooting gallery.
And two years and five months after that, I remember watching the New York skyline crumble into ash and fire and blood.
So if I don’t remember being entirely affected by April 19th 1995, it’s because by now that’s just part of our history, and we’ve faced worse and we’ve dealt with more of the same. I was young and naive and innocent to the horrors and reality of the world in 7th grade, and I was a little older and little wiser but still naive to the tragedies of human kind as high school kids were shooting other high school kids when I was a junior, and as a sophomore in college I was much older and much more connected to the world when the first plane turned south.
We’ve grown up in American tragedy, but so has every generation. Our parents had Vietnam, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and two Kennedy’s. Their parents had World War II, and with that Pearl Harbor. We can trace our national tragedies back through the dust bowl, Black Tuesday, World War I, presidential assassinations, the War between the States, and the revolution that brought us our very freedom.
That’s America. It’s a nation born in blood and baptized in strife.
We have lived in incredible times, and we have lived through incredible tragedies. Just as our parents saw their future disappear in Dealy plaza, so did they see a man walk on the moon.
We have seen our entire generation impacted and defined by the events of September 11th, but also by the election a year prior to that, and perhaps more so by the election of 2008. We have come so far from our beginnings as pilgrims and protestants, from Indians and immigrants. And yet we still have so far to go.
Our nation was born in blood, and every generation strives to make it safer for the next. And yet each time, we fail. We fail not because we don’t try, but because we don’t believe that it can ever get worse. We believe that the time we’re living in is better than the time before, and there’s no way it can be worse for our kids. Is that not hope? Is that not another less-publicized facet of the American dream? (“Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?” )
Even now as we live through a recession while fighting two wars, we still believe this is a great time to be living in this country. And though we are told via the media that we’re giving our children mountains of debt and a ruined environment, we honestly really continue to see the future as a more glorious place.
Rather, that’s what we should believe. We absolutely should believe our children will have a better world to live in because we absolutely should be ensuring that world. The future, that’s the real manifest destiny of these United States. It’s the westward expansion into the generations of America yet-to-come.
So yes, yesterday was important to those of us who felt the doors shake in a middle school classroom fifteen years ago, or who at least think we remember that. Just as today is important for those who lived in fear of simply going to school eleven years ago. Just as every day is important somewhere to someone for something.
Our history is made up of remembering tragedies because without those tragedies we wouldn’t have any history. The dates of our lowest moments are also our greatest. Without moments of strife we have nothing to fight for or against. We remember and are reminded.
July 4th 1776.
December 7th 1941.
November 22nd 1963.
September 11th 2001.
April 19th 1995.