I am certain that I didn't completely understand the enormity of the situation at that time. It is strange how insulated most of us truly are from events of this magnitude. At nineteen, I recognized that what had happened was horrible, but couldn't make a direct association to my own life. After all, I didn't know anyone that had been killed or injured - - to be honest, I probably only actually knew even a handful of people that lived west of the Mississippi River at that point in my life. Let's face it -- at nineteen, most of us are pretty self-centered beings - particularly those of us who receive an extended childhood by going straight out of high school to college. The ramifications on humanity from terroristic acts wasn't something I could really wrap my mind around at that point in my life.
When we decided to make Oklahoma City our stopping point for the night on our trip, I knew that I wanted to visit the memorial before we left the area the next day. My nineteen year old self wouldn't have wanted to - - my thirty-three year old self couldn't imagine being in Oklahoma City and not taking the time to do just that.
I had heard it was a beautiful and touching memorial, but even I was unprepared for how moved I was by it. We entered through what they refer to as the "Gates of Time." There are twin gates at each end of the memorial that frame the area of the former Federal Building and mark the formal entrances to the Memorial. The East Gate bears "9:01 a.m." (representing the innocence of the city before the attack.) The attack occurred at 9:02AM. The West Gate then bears "9:03 a.m." (representing the moment in which lives were forever changed, and for the hope that came from the tragedy that had happened.)
As soon we entered the area, my eyes were drawn to the Field of Empty Chairs. I couldn't help but tear up. There is one chair for each of the 168 lives that were taken the day of the bombing. They stand in nine rows to represent each floor of the building, and each chair bears the name of someone killed on that floor. Nineteen smaller chairs stand for the children (there was a daycare for children of employees in the building.) Those small chairs were the hardest to look at, yet my eye was continually drawn back to them. In front of the chairs is a very shallow reflecting pool. It provides a very placid and soothing quality to the entire memorial.
There is a museum right next door to the site, but we opted not to go in. I don't think our kids (ages 5 and 8) could have handled it. I have heard that sometimes kids can be very intuitive about certain things involving death, and it was that way at the memorial with Aleita. When we got to the memorial, we had parked across the street. As we made our way up to it, Aleita grabbed my hand and held tight - - if you know Aleita or are a regular reader of my blog, you know that Aleita is somewhat of a "wild child." If anything, we usually have to rein her in and keep her from running ahead of us - -her holding my hand without being asked to do so was strange enough. However, before we could even make it up the ramp to the memorial (and even get a glimpse of it,) Aleita stopped in her tracks and said, "I don't want to go in there. It's not a happy place. I don't like it here." Talk about goose bumps. It was as if she somehow already had some knowledge of the horror and destruction and sadness that had happened there, though we hadn't said a word about it to either of them.
As we walked around the memorial, Aleita continually echoed her readiness to leave. It had nothing to do with being a bored kid - - she was quiet and subdued and quite clearly uncomfortable - - and she never let go of my hand. In fact, she asked me a few times to pick her up and hold her. I think that Maggie could sense the sadness that Chris and I felt as we walked through and read the information, but she was highly curious about the whole thing. She had dozens of questions, but God bless her, she has led such a sheltered life that she had such a difficult time just wrapping her mind around the fact that someone would actually want to hurt other people....especially children.
Though I think that the museum itself would have been interesting and moving and would have provided an even more in-depth understanding of that day, I know that it would have been more than either of the kids could handle. It showed footage from immediately after the bombing, pictures of the victims, artifacts from the bombing, and had audio from the bombing itself (recorded across the street at a meeting of the Oklahoma Water Board.) It is definitely something I want to see, but it will have to wait until the children are older.
I highly encourage you to visit the memorial if you get the chance. It is also worth your time to visit the website: http://www.oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org/index.php.