It's September. I have had a bittersweet reaction to this time of year for a few decades. It used to be the advent of the fresh school year, everything was new again, and I couldn't wait to see what was in store for all of us.
On April 19, 1995, I watched in horror as the attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building played out in real time in Oklahoma City. Timothy McVeigh, one of our own, a veteran and a young man full of promise, had carried out the worst attack to date on American soil. The bomb he detonated, killed 168 people, including 19 children, and injured 684 others. At the time, only three of my children had arrived, and my father was still alive. I was a very different person during that phase in my life, but felt an undeniable crack in the foundation that I had always believed in. I will never forget his response to the loss of the children in the daycare of that building..."Collateral damage" was his emotionless, flat response.
Time moved on. I was blessed with another child. My father fell victim to cancer and left us in 1999. And in between the country tried to heal. Garth Brooks, a fellow Oklahoman, dedicated the moving song and video, "The Change" in an effort to pay homage and heal the state and our country. I was saddened to find it is hard to find the video now, without some effort...but I hope this link takes you there: http://rare.us/story/garth-brooks-hit-a-nerve-with-this-tribute-to-the-oklahoma-city-bombing-victims/
I was able to simply decline signing up for anything and still it played. And again, I cried.
Fast forward to early September, 2001. At this juncture in my life I was a professor at the University of Cincinnati, and had been given permission to attend a conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma that focused on medical imaging cardiovascular intervention. It was held in a hotel in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and I remembered so well the praying hands that were right outside my hotel window. I grew up watching Oral Roberts preaching on Sunday morning and was somewhat in awe of seeing those praying hands so close to me. I was very aware of the closeness between Tulsa and Oklahoma City as the media had picked up furiously around the Oklahoma City bombing....the memorial had opened in the recent months before, and Timothy McVeigh had been executed on June 11th of that year. I wondered if I could somehow get to Oklahoma City, and realized I could not...when the universe intervened.
On Saturday evening, September 8, I arrived at the airport in Tulsa to return home. My flight had been cancelled. I called my dean and told her I was going to drive to Oklahoma City and fly back from there on Monday, so I could take advantage of the problem that Delta was helping me finance. She was supportive and I will never forget going to the rental car counter to ask for a map to drive to Oklahoma City after renting a car there. Anyone who knows me understands what a risky prospect that was at the time....I have a major issue with directionality and get lost very easily, whether walking, or driving. I will never forget the map that was given to me...already highlighted to Oklahoma City....the place I later respected as every Oklahoman's "my place"....
It was a beautiful day as I drove my rental car, complete with a convertible top, down the highway. I found a radio station that was broadcasting Frank Sinatra. I was thinking a lot about my father, and how many times I sang those songs with him. It was before I understood that the universe was helping me to the place I was supposed to go...I just was happy and at peace and drove up to the hotel three blocks from the memorial in Oklahoma City. As I checked in, the agent told me that a "mistake" had been made, and so I had to be placed in the presidential suite at the top of the hotel, at no additional charge.
I dropped my bags and walked up the street and immediately felt the weight of the memorial, the loss, the humanity of what had happened. It was close enough to everything that there were not only fresh flowers, but fresh teddy bears, and pictures, and people kneeling on the sidewalk sobbing. I walked through the memorial in silence. There are many water features, many illuminated areas, and the chairs that are lit and symbolize those lost are overwhelming. The chairs for the children are small....I couldn't actually stay there for very long. My own children were very much in my mind and I could not imagine the loss for those families. It was much more than collateral damage.
I returned to my hotel suite and decided to indulge myself and order room service. During that 30 minutes, a storm unlike anything I have ever seen before or since blew up over the plains of Oklahoma, and I opened the windows to simply take it in. The young man who delivered my dinner asked permission to stay a moment to take it in as well. It was violent, beautiful, surreal, and although the wind blew through my hotel windows, no rain ever did. I was more than a little unnerved by the time I left to travel home on Monday.
Predictably, I lost my way to an unknown airport that Monday. I was nervous, running late as I needed to return my rental car. I still remember the suit I was wearing...it was olive green, with a gold shirt, and gold shoes, and I was flat out running by the time I got to the gate. The ticket agent was yelling, "Are you Kimberly Luse?!!!!!!!" She was gesturing for me to just run past her as they were about to close the doors of the airplane...so I yelled, "YES!" and ran past her and they closed the doors behind me. I sank into my seat, worried that my make-up was ruined and how embarrassed I was. It was before I ever owned a cell phone. I was just relieved to be on the plane. I never realized that never again would I run past anyone in an airport without scrutiny again.
I returned home late that Monday. I got up early Tuesday to take my children to school and then returned home to sink back into bed. My home phone rang and I answered to hear my mother ask, "Are you home?"....
I was sleepy, but said, yes, I was, and then asked what was wrong...her voice was not normal. That is when my mother, who rarely loses her composure or swears said, "Those bastards are flying planes into the World Trade Center!"
"WHAT? WHAT BASTARDS?!"
I then watched live coverage of the attacks of 9/11 for the next three hours while on the phone with my mother...and tried to tell myself everything was going to be alright. Of course it never has been the same since. I went to Krogers that day and bought too many groceries to put into my refrigerator because for some reason I guess I thought that would be some sort of solution. And for the first time felt a conflict, almost of relief, that my father was no longer with us. I remember thinking he would have no way to process what was happening. I didn't.
I walked out into my driveway that afternoon and looked up into the beautiful, blue sky. The deafening quiet. There were no planes flying over. Total uncertainty was so heavy in the air. My next door neighbor pulled into his drive, a veteran, who was usually so happy, looked at me with a steady gaze and said, "Now we just have to break them."
He walked into his house. And never walked out again the same person I knew before that day. My best friend from graduate school called to say her father, a WWII veteran had suffered a heart attack after seeing the news, and was on his way to surgery. He didn't survive.
That afternoon's anniversary is approaching. As I grow older I find myself still terrified, but more committed to my children, and now grandchildren, to be a part of the solution. I will not give up hope. I will not yield.
To quote Garth Brooks, "I do this so, this world will know, it will not change me."