Do you ever get a feeling that you can’t explain? Like you know who’s going to call before the phone rings, and the phone rings, and sure enough, there’s the person that you were thinking about. Have you ever gotten the sense that something horrible is going to happen before it happens?
A few weeks ago, I walked into my local bank and something didn’t feel right. Everything looked normal. The staff were friendly. The manager greeted me as usual. But I couldn’t wait to do my business and leave. I couldn’t help thinking, is something about to happen?
My mind flashed bank to a road trip in February 2007 when we visited the site of the Oklahoma City bombing. Twelve years prior to this on April 19, 1995, two buildings were bombed by a crazy man. Hundreds of people died, including fifteen children in the daycare located on the first level of one of the buildings.
The bomb-site is surrounded by chain link fences. On the chain link fences are flowers, photos, stuffed toys and other mementos that people have tied to the fence as a memorial to those who died that day. Despite the time that had lapsed, the freshness of the site was surreal. I am sure that the survivors and loved ones of those that died that day feel that it just happened yesterday. It’s a trauma that they will never recover from.
When you walk into the Oklahoma City bomb-site, you walk through an archway. Inscribed into the top of the archway is the time of the bombing. At one end of the site is the time 9:01. At the other end of the site is another archway with the time 9:03. These are the times when the bombs went off. The next thing you see are hundreds of bronzed chairs sitting on the grass. In the middle of these chairs is a section with very small chairs. These little chairs represent the children in the daycare. Each of these chairs were placed in the approximate position where each person was sitting when they died.
It was seeing the little chairs that hit my gut hard that day. My knees went weak, my body trembled, and I began to cry. I didn’t know anyone whose life had been taken or injured that day, but that didn’t matter. It was the horror of the reality of what evil can do when it is allowed to. How one man could do so much damage in such a short time boggled my mind. I collapsed onto the concrete retaining wall, and sat frozen for several minutes.
When able, I numbly walked through the neighboring partially damaged building that now serves as a museum. The damaged rooms and walls remain in the same state that they were in after the bombing. The rooms and walls have been glassed in, so that observers can see a remnant of the disaster. A tiny shoe, pieces of clothing, and other fragments litter the debris, telling the story that needs no words.
The memory of that visit haunts me to this day. After 9-11 happened, I’ve had opportunities to go to NYC, but after visiting OKC, I can’t possibly visit a site that is probably more gut-wrenching than what I’ve already seen.
Every April I think back and wonder. Did the workers, the children, or the families sense something different that morning? Or was it like any other day? The results of this disaster were no different that 9-11. It was just on a smaller scale. But was it a hint of things to come?
Do we listen when that inner voice says stop, or wait, or take a different route? When disaster happens, we usually look back and say, how could I have stopped this? How could I have done things differently so this wouldn’t have happened?
History is a lesson screaming at the future. But is anyone listening?