Thursday, December 3, 2015

Good Stuff, Solemn Stuff


During our visit to Oklahoma, I took my daughter to the memorial museum in Oklahoma City. I felt that she would be mature enough to handle it. I told her what happened and explained a bit about what we would see. I explained to her that the bombing in Oklahoma City is one of a handful of major events seared into my memory. The bombing takes its place among: 9-11, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, the fall of the Berlin wall, Hurricane Katrina, the OJ Simpson trial, the death of Princess Diana, and the shooting of President Reagan. I also have fuzzy memories from my childhood of John Lennon's murder and the Iran hostage crisis. In her lifetime, I fear that violence will have become so commonplace that nothing (good or bad) will seem particularly significant.

If you ever get to Oklahoma City, the memorial and museum are definitely worth seeing.  I didn't take any photos inside the museum. It seemed . . . in poor taste, I guess? The museum is very well done, very informative. The tour is self-guided and easy to follow.  We started out in a room full of displays about Oklahoma City itself, making the point that April 19, 1995 was just an ordinary day. Then, we heard an announcement over a loudspeaker that a water resources board meeting was about to begin. We were ushered into a conference room.  There were a handful of other museum visitors in the conference room with us. There was nothing in particular to look at - just a table with chairs and a blank wall. Soon, we could hear a woman's voice. If memory serves, this is the only audio recording of the bombing. The meeting had been held in a building adjacent to the Murrah Federal Building. The woman's voice droned on and on about some sort of water proposal. If you've ever worked in an office for even five minutes of your life, it was one of those mind-numbing meetings you dread the most. Just sheer drudgery.  Then, we heard a massive explosion, followed by chaos and yelling. Just then, the faces of the 168 people killed in the bombing flashed on the blank wall. We were then ushered into the next room.

The rest of the exhibits had as much impact as that audio recording of the bomb detonating. We listened to news reports about the bombing, we saw piles of keys found in the wreckage, and we read stories of survivors. I had a whole new appreciation for the efforts it must have taken just to coordinate all of the different first responders and agencies that were there. There was even an exhibit to honor the search and rescue dogs that assisted in the recovery efforts.The exhibits proceed chronologically: the bombing, the aftermath, the investigation, and the trials. I was particularly touched by a room filled with photos of the victims. Each photo was in a clear lucite box, each accompanied by a memento of that person. The photos of the children, accompanied by their toys, were particularly heart-breaking.

After we completed the tour, my daughter and I went outside to see the 168 chairs displayed outside. Part of the original fence, where families and friend of victims left flowers and personal items in remembrance, still stands at the site.

My daughter seemed to take the visit seriously and took the time to read and interact with the various displays. I told her that whenever something like this happens, there is a counter-action, an attempt to make sure it doesn't happen again.  "This is why," I told her, "If you drop someone off at the airport, the security people lose their minds if you try to leave your car there for a few seconds. Also, some dude tried to put a bomb in his shoe and get on an airplane, so now we have to take our shoes off when we fly somewhere. There is always a reaction."

The harder part of the conversation centered on the death penalty. The end-game for Timothy McVeigh was execution, of course. His accomplices were sent to prison. I explained to my daughter that I'm against the death penalty but that I really struggle when it comes to someone like Timothy McVeigh. He was clearly a monster and yet his death did not bring those poor souls back. So, I don't know what to say about cases like his. It's not like there was any doubt that he did it. I can certainly understand why society as a whole simply did not want to have to look at his face every again. Hard stuff to ponder for me, and hard stuff for a fifth grader to understand. 

My daughter asked me why he did it. "He was mad at the government," I said. "He wanted to make a point by killing innocent people."

"What point did he make?" she asked.

"Exactly," I said. 

She and I haven't talked too much about the recent spate of violence. As a parent, I don't even know what to say about it. :::sigh:::



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Good news: I have another blog post about my trip. This one, you'll be glad to know, involves Fritos.

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