Thursday, April 19, 2007

When tragedy taps you on the shoulder.

When tragedy reaches out and taps your shoulder you never get away from it. As much as you hope life separates you from "that date" you need only to be reminded of "that date" to be right back in the thralls of agony and every emotion packed in tragedies trunk. Today is the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing and I remember that day oh so well. April 19th's for the rest of my life will be reminders of that day that I first came in direct contact with a nation seized by intense and horrific emotional trauma.

1995 was my senior year at Oklahoma Christian University. I had an absolutely crazy schedule because I was carrying 19 hours as well as working full-time for my church which had just recently hired me. When I wasn't at work, studying, or sleeping, I was supervising the Phase IV student apartments as an RA. Kendra and I were dating and would be married that following March. Wednesday, April 19th was test day for me. I had a test in Marriage and Family, my nine o'clock class, a test in New Testament Epistles, and a baptism test in my Seminar of Christian Ministry class. Baptism test? Yes a baptism test. Church of Christ believe that the New Testament examples of complete immersion upon the confession of one's sins is the way to become a christian. As such my professor thought it best to indoctrinate us with what he felt was the end all way to get baptised. We were to meet at a nearby church of Christ to practice our baptism's with one of my fellow students being the "dunked." Can you imagine being baptized 32 times? Ghesh!

I was living off campus by this time in a condominium that was built for the super rich oil Barron's before the bottom fell out of the Oklahoma oil boom and it became a horrendous bust! These condos had been scooped up by many investors for a song and rented out. It was a nice place, gated with a pool and thick concrete walls that kept every one's business to themselves. I loved it there. My place was small with a tiny kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bath room. I would say my total space was maybe 30x30 at best. Tiny. I loved it and miss it yet today. One of my worst habits back then was hitting the snooze bar--too many times. Such was the case on the 19th.

I found a parking spot right at 9:00 and was rushing into the Bible building hurrying to my class. As the door to the building closed it was 9:02-BOOM! I turned thinking I had broken the door or something. Everyone else in the hallway that was late had thought the same thing. "I didn't do it, must be a jet or something." Oklahoma Christian is in Edmond, maybe 15 or so miles from downtown OKC. I'm guessing, it was a good ways away though. I rushed to class, made it through that class and rushed out to get to the church for my baptism test.

"Did you hear about the explosion?" "No, what explosion?" "A gas mane exploded downtown about an hour ago, there are at on of people hurt." "Holy cow that must have been the sound I heard as I went to class." "People...People...let's get started with class, you can catch up on your own time." Our professor was a curmudgeon to say the least. As he explained the right and wrong way to put on waders, accept a confession, hold hands with the dunkee, blah, blah, blah, my mind was racing through the whole gas explosion thing. That couldn't possibly be a gas mane, it was so loud. How big was the gas mane? As I put my waders on and stepped into the water to dunk my very baptized friend, I sailed through with flying colors. I had passed my test. Now, it was off to work until 3:30 when I rushed back to class until 6:00 only to rush back to church for services.

My church was located at 50th and Penn, the Murrah building was located at 9th street downtown. As I drove into the city from Edmond, I remember seeing a huge plume of grey smoke rising from the sky, near down town. That gas mane did cause a lot of damage. When I walked into the church building I met the secretary in the hallway-"Have you heard?" "Yeah, the gas mane, is everyone ok?" "Will, it wasn't a gas mane.. it was a bomb.. a terrorist has blown up the Murrah building downtown." "WHAT!?" From then on time stood still for me because I was glued to the TV watching every second roll by as if it were an hour. "Pam, do we have members in that building?" "No, but there are some across the street." One member had been on the phone with her mother as she sat in her office chair looking out the window at the Murrah building when she turned in her chair to write something down. At the exact second that she turned her chair the blast occurred. That is what saved her life, seven others perished on her floor. The YMCA, Journal Record, and Murrah building had the most casualties. The YMCA lost children, the most devastating thing of all. The children lost in those daycare's. I heard from several reliable sources that the children in the daycare at the Murrah building were obliterated, disintegrated, and that the babies in the Y were the ones' we saw on TV. I'll never for as long as I live forget seeing the fireman carry Baylee Almon's lifeless body. What horror.

The block the church was on was locked down for three hours because the FBI had an office building just up the street in the Penn Tower. My Mom was hysterical. "William we are are all on alert here. What is going on?" Mom lives in Joplin, a good four hours away. Her hospital was on alert to send help and also to receive less critical patients. Apparently there is a wave effect. The patients are pushed out in a wave to make room for the casualties. I couldn't believe it.

I felt numb and helpless. It was as if there were a twenty second delay in everything I did. The first time I drove down town was three days later, I was taking coffee to the workers. The air was thick and quiet, solemn was a party in that place. The air smelled like gunpowder or firecrackers after they have been popped. A strange odor. The building was illuminated and a c-shape. As they excavated the floors a flag was placed on that floor to show that it had been searched and that nothing was left to claim. It was so sad, so lonely, so painful. I didn't feel as though I could do enough to relieve this city of it's pain.

I found out about six months after the bombing that Kendra had been given a job at the YMCA downtown and her first day would have been the 19th of April. She turned the job down, thank God, otherwise I would have been reliving this horrible day in a very different day. It's one thing to say, "this happened in MY city" and an all together different story to say, "this happened to ME." I don't know how people continue to live their lives in the face of such tragedy but know that the power of the American spirit and individuals is strong and resilient and beautiful to see. You cannot go without being impressed when you witness amazing character and strength in the face of tragedy.

I hoped I would never feel that way again, for as long as I lived and did pretty good until 9/11/01 when that wound was reopened and cut deeper with an even more devastating tragedy than the Murrah building bombing.

I don't have the capacity to get in touch with people who feel mass casualties are a way to send a message. It just doesn't make sense to me at all. War doesn't make sense to me, but I am so totally against confrontation it isn't funny at all. I'll never forget talking with those sweet children at my church and trying to help them get back to a sense of safety and security. "God is on our side and we are going to be fine. Heaven is our home and we have a place prepared for us, we'll be fine."

The Virginia Tech massacre drug up those feelings and are now dragging me down memory lane, I try to keep that "road closed" as much as I can, but there just isn't a way to avoid it when tragedy taps you on the shoulder. I am thankful that I have faith in a God that is so much bigger than any problem this world creates. I have faith that God is on the other side of tragedy and there waiting to help me through. I rely on this, count on it, bank on it, however you say it. I can't really get in touch with those who don't have a faith in God, "what do they do to get through?" I just can't get in touch with how a person copes through a tragedy with there is nothing to believe in that is bigger than the problem you are faced with.

I hate to think about the next time tragedy taps me on the shoulder, but know that it's coming someday, I just hope it isn't tomorrow.


Tracy said...

thank you for that story will - while it is painful to recall it is good to remember in a way - makes you grateful and thoughtful and a whole host of other things. And God does work in mysterious ways does he not? Kendra not taking that job - like my son not going to tech. YOu just know things happen for a reason its just not always so apparent at the time.
You know what is really frightening? these events seem to be occurring with more frequency. Its terrifying: OK City, Columbine, Sept 11th and now VaTech. It makes you wonder what its all about