April 19, 1995
I skipped first hour. Slept in. Felt a boom, in my bedroom and I think like many Oklahomans that day, in my heart. It was so surreal- those next 48 hours. I was a senior and a piece of the wanderlust- the allure of life after graduation—was snatched away in that moment I found out what anger, hatred, and resentment can do. The bomb hit downtown, the bomb hit our hearts, the reverberations of that morning echo still when we least expect it-
That night in 1995, April 19 into the wee hours of April 20th, I went downtown with my dad to deliver blankets. The Red Cross workers shuffled us through to ground zero to make circles around what had been a few hours before a stalwart Federal Building. We offered weary workers coffee and blankets —the unexpected shuffle from what we had planned: dropping off blankets, to the unplanned: putting blankets on weary souls at ground zero.
H was there too that night, and the next day. We didn’t realize the impact of the shared experience until far later.
April 19, 2009
I had the humbling opportunity to co-write a song for the Oklahoma City National Memorial that year. The morning of April 19, a Sunday, our family was going to head downtown together to be a part and listen to Jami Smith sing our “Stand Together.” The days leading up to this were full of meaning and sense of accomplishment—H was an Oklahoma City Police Officer—we were all so proud of him and his resoluteness in fulfilling this dream to protect and serve. This was a direct result of witnessing the OCPD protect and serve and search, tirelessly, at ground zero.
We had finally come to some semblance of ‘normal’. Eight days on, six days off. The boys and I had gotten into a rhythm with H’s odd schedule, we had our way of saying goodbye’s around nine p.m., watching dad head out into the dark night with uniform perfectly pressed, bullet proof vest strapped firmly underneath, flashlight amongst other necessities in belt.
We found a rhythm. This after some discordant years of financial, relational, emotional insecurity, postpartum, more than a dozen jobs to make ends meet, amongst other onerous events.
The morning of the Memorial ceremony was going to be a culmination of growing together through all those things as a family. A closure per se. When we could’ve and should’ve at many times have grown apart. We made it through some of our own ground zero moments, H was living out a dream, and I might be about to embark upon one of mine.
But instead, that morning H came home from third shift with a massive headache. This headache coupled suddenly with another onslaught of kidney stones. He stayed home to try to sleep off the pain, I put water by the bed, kissed the boys who skipped over to Hanny’s, and I headed downtown alone.
When I returned home just a couple of hours later, it was evident H’s pain had increased rather than decreased, and to a shocking level. I don’t remember how I got him into the car and I don’t remember the drive to the first hospital experience of the day, but I remember the shock, like a bomb dropped when we least expected it, and the aftershock was greater than what we could have ever planned for. Confronted again with the unexpected problem of pain.
I want to say I’ve been brave and resilient the last couple of years. But mostly I just feel tired. I haven’t found a rhythm since that day. I’ve found some major chords, some fluid moments of a concordant melody, but mostly the aftershock of watching my husband almost lose his life from a strep infection and blood clots, watching his OCPD dream vanish, watching our finances siphon away through medical bills, watching the boys have to ‘adapt’ to more changes and unknowns… aftershock.
Perhaps these are minor chords; in between there have been major chord harmonious moments that have emerged in fortuitous ways as well- wonderful opportunities that wouldn’t have otherwise emerged. Many good things.
And yet still, I’m tired of aftershock. I’m tired of trying to make sense of the constantly changing tunes; tired of trying to learn the melody only to find it has changed again. I’m tired of trauma and sickness and chronically tense shoulders. Tired of feeling helpless against these tsunamis and storms.
Or maybe I’m just tired of not being able to help those in their own aftershock as much as I’d like. Because I know what it feels like- the loneliness of grief, the grrrrr of life interrupted by sickness, the struggle to make sense of seemingly senseless events. And I want to help. But many times do not know how. And often don’t know how to mend my own melody still.
April 19, 2011
Life is a gift. Family is a gift. Breath is a gift. Mystery is a gift. Tears are a gift. Laughter is a gift.
I don’t understand why they shuffled my dad and me with blankets and coffee in tow and sent us down to ground zero to that deafening silence, with those unthinkable sights. But I’m grateful because it’s part of the story.
I don’t understand why at the least expected moment H got sick and we almost lost everything. But we gained so many unexpected blessings in the aftermath- like time- especially H and the boys- getting lavish time to connect and be, present father and sons, that third shift might never have provided. I’m grateful, even in the aftershock, because it’s part of the story.
I feel like an observer. Like I haven’t yet been able to connect to aspects of life since 2009. Or haven’t been able to re-attach myself to dreams I felt so sure of before.
I have no wise words or expertise. I have very little common sense or know-how regarding this thing called life. But for whatever it’s worth today-
To the ones in pain- whether physical or emotional- you are heroic in your unseen battle you fight. You are the strong ones, you are the survivors, you deserve all the respite and refreshment life has to offer. I wish I could pour all the needed peace and relief over you to enliven your step today and take some of the pain away. Know today that if your pain is great, your strength is greater- what you are enduring is a battle and you are a valiant champion fighting it, often unseen and without the accolades and compassion you deserve. I see you. You are a wonder.
To the ones who have lost everything it seems- you are in for a unique perspective on life—that in the mess of loss- whatever the loss may be— may you find a release and relief from the feeling of having to keep up with the Jones’ or the incessant race to the top of whatever however… I hope you can find reassurance in the ‘little things’, renewal in simplicity, regeneration in letting go of old and finding meaning rather than despair in the mystery of the new. I hope for lightness for your soul in the letting go. And a wave of possibilities to breeze through you like wind through trees.
I’ve lost almost everything- only to find the most essential things present like never before. I’ve tiptoed sanity- only to find peace comes in the present, nothing in the future is for sure, no matter how ‘good’ I am, my achievements or how well I’ve mapped out a grand plan.
If you feel alone with the weight of the world on your shoulders or pain tucked in your pocket so no one will see or lost everything and can barely breathe—you are not alone. And you are braving so brave. You are the heroic ones today and I hope you find smiles on strangers faces, peace in random places, unexplained joy pitter-patters in your heart, beauty for the ashes, a pleasant song to assuage any grief, and hope perching on your shoulder every moment of every day until the aftershock dissipates…
From Viktor Frankl’s Man Search For Meaning, p.135"We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one's predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation…we are challenged to change ourselves."