I was introduced to Oklahoma by domestic terrorism, and was struck immediately by its resilience.
I was interviewing the parents of children killed in the Alfred P. Murrah federal building, and was moved by their sorrow. I interviewed so many families, and recall the pain of seeing so much harm done to so many.
I have always remembered how good everyone was to me, a stranger asking intimate questions during the most difficult of times.
I’ve never forgotten how the people of Oklahoma stepped away from evil, and came together in common cause to help each other heal, to rebuild their community, and to show the world that they could not be defeated by extremism in any form.
When I returned for one anniversary of the bombing, I was moved by a widow who had forgiven Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, despite the damage their hatred had wrought on her life.
The bomb site had been razed, then, and was only an empty lot with a chain link fence. I cried, examining all the photos of children — 19 died at the hands of homegrown terrorists — and the teddy bears and other mementoes tied to the fence. The photographer wept too.
There were photos of victims, and handwritten letters to them, American flags, dolls, toys, and other tokens of remembrance. It was all too painful, and I wondered then about the human need to memorialize, in such a public way.
When I returned years later to revisit Oklahoma City, hope had sprouted at that bomb site.
There were 168 empty chairs, one for each bombing victim. A memorial park grew from all that pain, and one wall of the Alfred P. Murrah building was engraved with the names of more than 600 people injured in the explosion.
Yet the National Memorial is one of the most peaceful places in the country. On a quiet day, the reflecting pool there invites solitary meditation about good triumphing over hate, and, as they say in Oklahoma City, the loss of our collective innocence.
That bombing was in 1995, and it was America’s introduction to premeditated murder with homemade weapons of mass destruction.
Today, reaching out to survivors of the tornado, I’m thinking of what I learned from that first trip to Oklahoma. I’m remembering, with gratitude, the hospitality of the people of that state, and what they gave to me.
Text from the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum: “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.®