To the Point for 4/21/05



Near where these words are written on a stone tablet in the middle of a memorial park in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma stand 168 chairs. Arraigned in rows, the empty chairs symbolize the lives lost on April 19th, 1995, when a terrorist named Timothy McVeigh drove a rental truck up in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

According to reports and evidence, he simply lit a fuse and walked away.

Minutes later, the bomb inside that truck tore half of the building away, killing those 168 people — many of them children who were in the daycare center on that side of the building.

It’s now been 10 years since that day. I am always surprised at how quickly time passes. It seems as though those events took place more recently, but this week in Oklahoma City and across the country, people will pause for a variety of ceremonies.

It was a different time, then. This country was still more than six years away from the terror of September 11th, 2001, and as a people we felt safe and isolated from the threats of violence going on around the world.

What we didn’t expect was that terrorism would strike from within.

I think one of the things that hit Americans the hardest with the Oklahoma City attack was that it wasn’t some outside, foreign force that came in and destroyed that building and killed those people. Instead, it was a gangly, red headed, “boy next door” who somehow went so off track that he was willing to give his life to make his point.

Ultimately, through the court system, he did just that.

But the story from Oklahoma City 10 years later is not one of hate and fear; but instead it is one of hope and peace — and that’s what we should also celebrate.

This week has been designated as the “National Week of Hope” around the country.

In Oklahoma City, the Week of Hope is being marked by a number of different events and ceremonies — all aimed at trying to better understand each other, tolerate each other, and reach toward each other in a spirit of peace and cooperation.

Sunday was a day of faith, and it was marked by seedlings that were taken from the survivor tree that is located on the grounds of the memorial being taken and planted in each community that lost a person that day.

It was called “Spreading Our Branches”, and those new trees are designed to be a symbol of strength; but also a symbol of hope for future generations that they can learn from this tragedy.

Monday was a day of understanding, and it was marked with groups of people who were involved in the events of April 19th, 1995 coming together to discuss what happened and what steps can be taken to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

The discussion didn’t center on more police on the streets or more metal detectors in public places, but instead it was a vehicle to reach out to others with a goal of trying to understand differing positions and attitudes.

Tuesday was the 10th anniversary, and that day was set aside as a day of remembrance. Ceremonies in the city included 168 seconds of silence, a second for each person who died that day; and rightfully honored not only those who perished, but those who survived the event, as well as family members.

Wednesday was a day of sharing, when survivors, family members, and emergency volunteers went out into the community and talked about their experiences with school children. The program gives children — many of whom weren’t alive 10 years ago — the opportunity to hear first hand stories of history; and also hear first hand accounts of the destructive nature of hate.

Today (Thursday) is a day of tolerance, and students from schools in the Oklahoma City area are participating in a model United Nations program; which will help students see alternatives to violence when trying to resolve a situation.

Tomorrow (Friday) is a day of caring, which centers on thanking the community and its residents for the resilience shown in the face of such horrors.

Finally, Saturday is designated as a day of inspiration, when the community looks to the future with hope and anticipation. They will never forget the events from 10 years ago, but one of the important steps in moving forward is to not look back.

A famous saying is that “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it”, but in Oklahoma City, it seems as those people have chosen to put aside the hate that has imprisoned them and are moving forward toward the freedom that is found in tolerance.

So what’s the lesson here? Many times people and communities like Switzerland County find it hard to put aside past prejudices and grudges. What we need to learn is that such hatred only harms ourselves, eating away at our spirit.

It is through tolerance and acceptance that our world will begin to move forward. The people of Oklahoma City are choosing to celebrate that tolerance this week — and each of us should join them.