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Catering Included

It is possibly bad form to raise this issue so soon after the fifteenth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, but then again, the issue itself is bad form.

I remember the day of the bombing; if you are Of a Certain Age, I'm sure you do, too.  I was a high school senior in Cincinnati, driving home after singing with our chorus on Fountain Square for Catholic Schools Week (don't ask.)  Towards the end of the concert, we began seeing an influx of sheriff vehicles and tense-faced officers filtering into the square.  Afterward, I cruised down Glenway Avenue, Western Hills Mall was whizzing past-- eighteen years old, with a car in the sun to myself, passing a strip-mall Sears, and there were reports on the radio of four people dead and a day-care center.

Later, with the final death toll at 171 (I include in this count, as does the shattered Catholic church across the street, three unborn babies whose mothers were killed) and four years between the wall of shock and the sweeping manhunt, I stood at the site.  The Field of Empty Chairs were there, framed by the flat, immobile  Gates of Time, but the rest was mud and crumbled concrete.

So now the thing is done, the Reflecting Pool rippling its way past the chairs, the first layer of the scab gently laid.

The tragedy of the Oklahoma City bombing  prepared us, in its own awful way, for 9/11.

Some were prepared before they were even born.

Others gather it gently into the sweeping national gallery of tragedies...

...but we all felt that we wanted to leave a bit of ourselves behind, because the people who died that day... were us.  People picking up social security cards, bank tellers, cubicle jockeys.

But it seemed like not all of the mud had been cleared away.

I refer here not to the Memorial itself, which is quiet, respectful, and dignified.  Turn 180 degrees with me now to the museum adjacent to the Memorial, which traffics in Christmas ornaments and frosted mugs.

I just muscled my way through Atlas Shrugged, okay.  It took me fifteen years to get it off the shelf and at least that many weeks to charge, exhausted, to the endnotes.  I'm rather fond of capitalism.  Capitalists buy my writing, so that I in turn can load up on such necessities of life as Cinnamon Toast Crunch and bikini wax kits.  I don't see how any sane person could have a problem with a small, tasteful shop offering books, documentaries, and perhaps a moving photo or two of the Survivor Tree.  The organization takes not a dime of taxpayer dollars, I understand, and bless it for that, but... stuffed animals?

This bestowed upon me the same leaden sensation I experienced when I saw people  pouring out of the gift shop at the Kennedy Space Center toting astronaut oven mitts and this horrid thing.   I admit to once suspending an inflatable shuttle stack from a dorm room ceiling, but this other stuff... the Cape is not Disney World.  Nobody died building Splash Mountain.  There is no need for a DON'T PHASE ME, BRO! tee shirt (not just in this context, but ever) in the gift shop--  the same gift shop which, I must add, remained open as stunned, red-eyed tourists were bussed back from the Landing Facility one day in February, where they'd waited for hours for an orbiter which never landed.

Then again, I'm not so sure I can really judge here.  No two people grieve in the same way.  I've somehow been bestowed the gift of never having lost a loved one suddenly-- certainly not suddenly, horrifically, publicly, and politically.  If a survivor finds one single shred of peace in wearing an Oklahoma City National Memorial  ringer tee shirt, I cannot possibly pass judgment on that.

This does not explain, however, the facility rental thing.

Now, you can rent the Holocaust Museum in DC, which is another story; the Holocaust Museum is akin to the Oklahoma City National Memorial in that there's no truly good time for the average citizen to visit.  You go in happy, you come out depressed.  You go in depressed, you come out suicidal.  It's not exactly first-date material.  But the Holocaust Museum  remembers the souls of six million people who were extinguished in many distant places, over a period of several years.  They didn't die right there.  The Murrah Building?  Rescuers were amputating limbs on the spot, without anesthetic, on a day which the vast majority of the American population was of sufficient age to remember.

So I cannot imagine why anyone would want to host a wedding reception there.

Well, there is an opportunity to include free passage for the guests the museum, so I suppose it would make for several delightful opportunities for the wedding photographer.  Don't forget the piano entertainment option!  And the free wi-fi!

There's another side to this, of course.  I wrote several years ago that as I stood on the beaches of Normandy, I first looked askance at a group of frolicking teens on what I considered sacred ground-- but then was grateful for them, as the sands had been consecrated so that they could enjoy the very freedom they were experiencing at that moment.  So maybe the best way to honor the victims is to move forward with not just memorializing, but the everyday tasks of life itself-- is this not thwarting the very goal of terrorism?

But is this respectful to the families of what is, for some victims, a final resting place?

These two questions are the reason why Ground Zero is still a concrete slab... we all have different ideas of what "respect" is.

glad that's over at: mbe@drinktothelasses.com

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Reader Comments (5)

[...] Beth pays a visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial, and fifteen years on, something’s a little different. Share and [...]

In Flanders Field, the poppies grow, between the crosses, row on row....

April 27, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterstarnarcosis

The picture at the end really sums up for me how we human beings persevere. Bad things, terrible things happen, we remember them, we create memorials.

Then we continue on with the job of living our lives, doing the every day things that we need/want to do.

April 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCJ from St Louis

I remember that day too- the strange mixture of a celebratory Choral concert with Nick Clooney at the helm on Fountain Square and the sounds of sirens blaring in the background. It's amazing how in the scope of 15 years and horrible days like 9/11, Oklahoma City sometimes gets forgotten temporarily.

April 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristina

$adness $ells.

April 27, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie
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