One of my favorite TV series is “Saving Grace.” (It originally aired on TNT 2007-2010 and is now available on Netflix.) Holly Hunter plays an Oklahoma City detective named Grace who is visited by Earl, a lovable angel. Grace is a nice twist on the prostitute with a heart of gold. She sleeps around, drinks too much, and is a wicked jokester but she’s also ethical and a good cop.
A major story line is the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995. Grace’s sister died in the blast but it should have been Grace, who was too hung-over to go down to the Social Security Office and apply for her nephew’s card. Now Grace is helping to raise the nephew and they have frequent talks about the bombing. And they visit the memorial park that was constructed on the site of the bombing.
And that is what led me to Oklahoma City today.
The bombing happened on April 19, 1995. It was horrific, killing 168 people and ripping apart an enormous building in the heart of OKC. But, practically speaking, I missed all of it. April 1995 was not a good time for me. My husband was six months into his diagnosis of AIDS. In early April he nearly died when his gallbladder became inflamed and then went necrotic. Surgery saved him but rendered him, as he said, “weak as a kitten.” We had already decided to move back to Florida, to be near family for support, and wheels were in motion that were threatening to run me down. Movers had been contracted, boxes were getting packed and deadlines loomed. I recall buying something at a store and asking the clerk about the ribbon she was wearing. She looked at me as if I was an alien. “It’s for the bombing victims,” she declared with just a hint of “you idiot.”
Twelve years later “Saving Grace” came on the air and its interwoven theme reminded me of those times. Odd as it may seem, I felt badly that I hadn’t felt badly in 1995. So today I stopped by to pay my respects.
Earl must have been on my shoulder because I managed to get a parking space directly across the street. It was a raw, cold day so it was little wonder that there were no crowds. And the memorial, like the building that once stood there, is literally in the middle of the city. It is amazing that more buildings didn’t collapse.
Side view of the Oklahoma City bombing museum
I should have visited the museum but I didn’t. It is housed in an original part of the Murrah Building that survived the blast, the scars of that terrible day are very evident. I’m sure it is excellent but I worried about leaving Tango in the van for too long and, truth to tell, I am not the best museum browser.
So I made the quick walk to the memorial sculpture/garden and as I gazed at it across a beautiful reflection pool I was surprised at the tears that gathered in my eyes. The design is so personal and so simple–168 chairs in nine rows reflecting the nine floors of the Murrah Building. The placement of the chair corresponds with the floor on which the person would have been at the time of the blast. The smaller chairs represent the children that died. Five chairs set away from the others represent those that were outside the building. Each chair has a glass foundation with a name engraved. It reminded me of “Our Town,” the Thornton Wilder play in which the dead occupy chairs and reflect on life and eternity. Certainly in that quiet park, that was once so horribly torn asunder, it is easy to do the same.
The Oklahoma City National Memorial
Perhaps Wilder captured the essence of why I visited the Memorial when the main character speaks these lines:
“We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”