Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Oklahoma City Memorial

This May the Irish Setter National Dog Show was held in Oklahoma City.

While I was in Oklahoma City I knew the only thing I really wanted to see was the memorial honoring the devastating bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. I am from New York.  I know about bombings and catastrophic events.   I knew I needed to see what this city had done to honor its dead and the tragedy that happened April 19, 1995. 

I remember the day of this tragedy as if it were yesterday.  I was still working full time and as I listened to the news I knew that all I wanted was to pick up my sons, get home and watch the events of the day safely at home.  It was unfathomable to me that someone would bomb a federal building housing a day care center.  Who thinks of these things?  How can someone have such total disregard for human life?

When I arrived at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum with four of my show friends, it was unbelievable.  The program begins with a tape of the normal day. It was April 19,1995 and “We were there.”  We were at a hearing in the federal building sitting in a makeshift courtroom listening to the proceedings.  The tape starts at 8:57.  The bombing occurred at 9:01 and the death and destruction were complete by 9:03.

Sitting there, you are ill prepared for the jolt you get when the bomb detonates.  Visitors then proceed into the main museum where recovered personal items, items first responders would have seen after the dust settled, are on display. Articles of clothing and trinkets, which moments before belonged to men, women and children, lie lifeless in front of you.  Imagine, on the 6th floor a coat still hung on its hanger on the file cabinet knob where someone had put it moments before.  Six inches away the floor is gone.  A coffee pot full of coffee remains unscathed while everything around it is disintegrated.

How random is life and death? 

 One part of the museum, where Oklahomans’ paid tribute to those who came to help after this devastating day, was particularly moving.  The NYPD and FDNY, not surprisingly, are prominently displayed as some of those who took part in the recovery effort.  They were there from the get go, helping the people of Oklahoma put the pieces of their lives back together.  The people of Oklahoma, unfortunately, had the opportunity to repay the favor after September 11th, 2001.  They came to help our city mend after the unthinkable happened, again.

My most indelible memory from the Oklahoma Memorial, presiding over the chairs and the walls marking time and the reflecting pool, is the Survivor Tree.  Throughout the museum the Survivor Tree is evident in everything connected to the memorial. It is prominently displayed as the logo for the museum and it is beautifully lit at night illuminating the grounds overlooking the pool, walls and chairs. 

I realized this memorial was truly about surviving the tragedy and going forward.  Yes, the people of Oklahoma were rocked to their core by the death and devastation of the bombing.  However, they chose to honor the survivors, not just morn their dead.  They did not undermine the loss and destruction; rather they chose to showcase it and those surviving as well. 

The survivors are what make this museum so unique.  It brought home the difference in the way we, as New Yorkers, view the Twin Towers and how Oklahomans’ view the Murrah Building. They chose to look at it as a moment in time they survived.  We still morn the losses, which continue to increase day after day due to the toxic aftermath breathed in by so many.

I was thankful that I visited this honorable museum, by day and by night.  Oklahomans’ should be proud of what they have constructed to honor those both living and dead.  I can only hope New York’s memorial is able to capture the indomitable spirit of New Yorkers on 9-11 as the Oklahomans did of their fellow survivors.

After all, America is about surviving and thriving, yet never forgetting.  Oklahoma got it completely right.  The Survivor Tree does not diminish the loss; rather it serves to highlight the good that comes out of a tragedy.

Thank you Oklahoma City for a beautiful tribute to your fallen heroes and your brave survivors!

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