Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Final Touch

Photo by Ken Kniskern
Timothy’s hands were trembling, but resolved as he completed the last step to his plan.  He calmly walked away from a delivery truck as its cab filled with smoke coming from the end of a burning fuse.

The downtown traffic was gradually beginning to subside after the morning rush hour.  Coffee mugs were finding their familiar places on corners of desks.  Computers hummed in unison as the users typed in passwords and hit the “Enter” keys.  Phones began to ring with morning wakeup calls for employees.  Downstairs muted giggles filtered into the hallways.

Those familiar sounds came to a horrific stop when the force equivalent to three tons of dynamite exploded and became the second shot heard around the world.

Oklahoma City would never be the same.  America would never be the same.  The lives of one hundred sixty-eight families, including those of parents who had just kissed the soft cheeks of their precious little ones, would never be the same.  The only life that seemed untouched was that of Timothy McVeigh, at least for now.

What was once a federal office building filled with FBI agents and other employees, local citizens, and a day care center was now a gaping hole in the Heartland.  Electrical cables hung like spaghetti, and roofing materials waved like shredded curtains hung from melted and twisted iron.  Shards of glass exploded and penetrated unsuspecting bystanders.

Television screens around the world carried the indescribable wreckage and carnage brought to the Bible Belt by hatred of the most demonic proportion.

Timothy may have calculated the required amount of explosive ingredients, the best time of the day to destroy the most lives, and the deadliest available parking place in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, but there was one calculation he missed completely.  He could never have comprehended what would become the “Oklahoma Standard”.  

Volunteerism had its finest moments in the aftermath of the explosion.  Lines formed across the state with people who waited hours to donate blood.  Rescue workers from around the state, the nation, and the globe arrived daily for weeks.  Specially trained dogs became heroes.  Every conceivable need for the rescue and recovery teams was donated, mostly by Oklahomans.

                                                                                          * * * * *

Fifteen years later, in the shadow of The Survivor Tree, a gentle breeze barely skims the still water in the Reflecting Pool.  As the sun sets, the soft lights beneath the glass chairs begin to glow.  Each chair has been strategically placed and named to correspond with the deceased’s final place in and around the nine-story building.  They provide a tangible area where one can rest, place flowers, and even kneel in their quest for comfort and understanding.

Twin bronze gates stand majestically at each end of the memorial, one engraved with 9:01 AM, the other with 9:03 AM.  An inscription on the outside of each gate reads:

“We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever.  May all who leave here know the impact of violence.   May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity.”

The peaceful setting that replaced the remains of terrorism speaks to moving on, but never forgetting.  Visitors still leave gifts in a 200-foot remnant of chain link fence that will forever be available for special touches of kindness and remembrance.

In a place as far away as Israel, a large painted mural of a firefighter tenderly looking into the quiet face of the child he is carrying covers the side of a concrete building, an image of an incredible moment in time.

The web page that hosts the site of the Oklahoma City National Memorial now shines with smiling faces of over comers and their stories of restored and victorious lives.  They choose to face each new day in the light of a different kind of joy.

Oklahomans have shown extraordinary resilience through the rough-and-tumble days of the Land Rush, early statehood, the Dust Bowl coupled with the Great Depression, two world wars, and an oil boom that turned into a bust.  April 19, 1995 was our biggest devastation.

“The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us” is inscribed near The Survivor Tree.

Out of the rubble came strength and greatness.  A state engulfed in mourning but enmeshed in faith as she watches in anticipation for the arrival of the Prince of Peace Who will, once and for all, end the touch of terror.

Photo by Ken Kniskern


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