Sunday, May 30, 2010

Running to Remember

Certain events are indelibly imprinted on our minds and consciousness. The attacks of 9/11 are such events. However, before 9/11 there was the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995. The effects and impact were devastating. We immediately assumed Middle Eastern terrorists were behind it, so imagine our surprise to learn it was perpetrated by anti-government zealots – indeed, homegrown, American terrorists. Whatever their origin, this event was seared into our collective consciousness – an unfathomable, unbelievable tragedy.

For years after the tragedy, the city attempted to heal and rebuild – while never forgetting the need to remember. Ten years ago, as part of that process, the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon had its start – together with the opening of the National Memorial and Museum. It was a run to remember the lives lost and those forever impacted because of those lost. It was a run to remind us of the fragility of life, while embracing the hope that helped the city cope with the sorrow and anger – and eventually to heal and press forward. For Karen and me, it was a run quite unlike others we have done. It wasn’t a party – and yet it was a celebration of life. It wasn’t festive – and yet the spirit of the occasion prompted determination and accomplishment that was remarkable. For us, it was an unforgettable run and a weekend.

The course itself wasn’t particularly scenic or noteworthy; however, the pre-race remembrances, 168 seconds of silence (one for each of the lives lost in the bombing), and the setting along side the National Memorial made it truly memorable.
It went through downtown, the dining and entertainment district of Bricktown, around the State Capitol and through residential areas (some quite impressive) and business districts, before ending back at the Memorial. The weather, despite some wind, was good for running and the hills were not that serious. There were no PRs, but I was happy with my time and the training level it indicated. Perhaps, more importantly, I was very happy that we had chosen this race in Oklahoma.

Since we were childless for the weekend (many thanks to Buggy), we took advantage of our freedom to eat out two evenings in Bricktown and take in a AAA baseball game.

We also visited the very impressive National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, which had a collection of beautiful western art and sculpture and a fascinating exhibit on western films and TV – to include the shows, the stars and their place in American heritage. It was quite a reminder to me of how our family spent our Sunday evenings when I was growing up – and what the true film staple was of the era. It was well worth the visit.

We capped the trip off with a visit to the University of Oklahoma campus in Norman. Despite my predisposition of general distaste for that institution, it was a pretty campus with some very impressive buildings, such as a magnificent library reading room.

The highlight of the trip was the Memorial and its message. We spent considerable time on the grounds and walking through the exhibits and memorabilia. I cannot imagine it not touching a person in a very real way – especially considering the very young children whose lives were also lost in this tragedy. This was brought home poignantly as we walked through the Memorial’s rows of empty chairs following the race – looking at the pictures, flowers and memorabilia left there for the weekend. As we came to one chair and looked at the picture of a newlywed couple placed there I noticed a young woman adjacent to the chair – who looked strangely like the woman in the picture. I inquired and learned the picture was of her and her husband – married some six months ago – and that the chair was her Dad’s. She had been 14 at the time of the bombing. His was also an empty chair at their wedding. The Memorial message connected. The stories of very real people – leading very normal lives – that were shattered in an instant and the days, weeks and months that followed. The stories of the responders, the investigators and even the attorneys and, just as importantly, those who rebuilt their lives and their communities, were stories worth hearing. They are also stories worth remembering. Indeed there is much evil in the world – and it is truly unbelievable what some people will do. It is bad enough that adults are impacted, but when innocent children also perish, it is all the more tragic and senseless. Fortunately, there is still much good counteracting the evil – and that was ALSO on display following the tragedy. The thoughtful message is that we must never let down our guard and we must never forget – lest we are destined to repeat the tragedies of our history. And interestingly enough, as I ran the race I took strength from the message of the memorial and the individuals who perished in the bombing. Let us also not forget that there is strength and inspiration in our heritage.