At the very moment I write these words, there is a gathering
. It is only a few blocks away, and it is not the gathering of a few friends or a small party. It is not a family reunion
or a town concert or a chamber meeting behind closed doors
. As I look beyond the flag outside my window that rests at half-mast
, further toward the high-rise buildings that sit solid in the warm air, I know that somewhere very close, there is a gathering of thousands upon thousands plus thousands of people.
Imagine the masses crowded into one city square. Imagine your brothers, your daughters, your best friends, and workmates. Imagine them all – every person you know plus everyone they know plus everyone they know plus everyone they know for ten more times – in one place. Imagine so many people together that you can hardly tell them apart from one another.
They stand silent. They stand still. They stand holding hands, shoulder to shoulder, leaning on each other for strength, support, and understanding. Some of them wipe tears from their eyes. Some of them look up to the sky. Some of them lower their heads and silently ask, "Why?"
This mood permeates the air and stifles the land. You can feel the sadness all around you. You can taste the grief. At the very moment I write these words, church bells peal, louder than any I've heard in my life. 168 times.
It is April 19, 2000 in Oklahoma City, five years to the day after one bomb was set and the settled comfort of a nation changed forever.
It gives pause to think. And wonder. Are the lessons well enough learned? In the face of something so horrid and horrific, will we sully forth with new knowledge, praying that doing so will in some small way lend a scrap of meaning to the deaths and injuries of hundreds? Are we able to honor those gone by living with a new understanding and wisdom?
Some of them are angry, the multitudes downtown, and this is not a curiosity to anyone. At times you think that perhaps your own rage will reach up and turn the skies red. "Justice!" they scream in their hearts.
But the deaths of two more men will not ease the pain of 168 families and an entire community of friends. Not really. Not in the end. In the face of such loss, those who were at the root of it have become irrelevant. What they have wrought overshadows even them. Whatever point they were trying to make is lost in our tears and suffering. It seems that some can scream so loud that no one will hear them.
My mind triggers backward. The Murrah Building Bombing. The Edmond Post Office Massacre. Jonesboro. Columbine. These and other tragedies that have left no one untouched, all at the hands of our own kind.
Because as much as we would label them monsters and demons, they are, after all, us. But the question arises in my mind, my soul, and I have no answer: What pain could run so deep that their crying out would have to be of such a magnitude - such a horror - before they felt noticed by us?
Please don't tell me that we need more gun control, stricter laws, fewer video games, or more metal detectors. I don't want to know about your plans for higher security, fewer freedoms, greater protection, or the newest sub-committee in Congress. I want to know why these people are hurting so bad and why they must resort to transforming their pain into everyone's anguish. I want to know why some people in our society are feeling so disconnected that rhetoric and political ideals become more meaningful than spiritual or community ideals. I want to know why some kids are so out of touch with themselves and everyone around them that consequence becomes no matter in the living of their lives, and the only way they can become significant is to launch their personal suffering in as broad a direction as possible. I want to know about our lost ones - and how many more there are.
People in our communities are suffering. They hurt, so they hurt themselves. They hurt, so they hurt us. The bottom line is, they hurt. Please don't point the finger at television, radio, movies, graphic novels, pornography, or Southpark. The finger points at us. What have we done - or not done - and what can we now do - or not do?
There are 168 markers in a place where a building once stood. Reminders of people suddenly taken.Reminders of lives here and instantly gone. For me, a reminder that we are not doing enough.
Not enough for the lost ones among us. Not enough for the hurting ones. Not enough for those who, as Harlan Ellison once phrased it, have no mouth, but they must scream.
The church bells are silent now. They're reading the names. We pay our respects. Deep inside, I know: This will not be the last time we bow our heads in a moment of silence. This will not be the last time we grieve. Perhaps, though, someday, if we learn well enough...we will never do it again at the hands of our own.