I was living in Oklahoma City in 1995 and felt the bomb shake my house that killed 168 people and wounded countless others. I remember the collective grief. The feeling is echoed this summer. It seems fitting to post this scene that was inspired by that moment in history.
The set-up: The Healer and the Lawyer. Persephone Jones has a new neighbor in Peeler, Oklahoma—high dollar lawyer, Jason Brooks. This is a more serious scene featuring Jason as the guest speaker for a fund raiser for the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial
“It’s my privilege to bring you one of the unsung heroes of that fateful April morning, when all of our lives were changed forever. You haven’t heard his story before. He didn’t take a photo opportunity, but he was there working tirelessly until we forced him to go home two days later. I had to twist his arm to get him to come here this evening.” His attention veered in our direction. “Ladies and Gentlemen, will you welcome Oklahoma’s own, Jason Brooks.”
My mouth dropped open. Jason had never said a word about any personal involvement with the bombing. Come to think of it, he never bragged or appeared on the ego trip associated with successful lawyers.
He issued a low grunt, wiped his mouth with his napkin, rose, and made his way to the front of the room. The audience applauded politely, as he took his place behind the podium. He stood quietly before the crowd, taking their measure as the applause died down.
Though his expression appeared impassive, his hands gripped the podium, betraying pent-up tension. “Paul’s correct in telling you I am here reluctantly. I know most of you think I’m a publicity hound, always ready to give a statement when the cameras are rolling. It’s true that I’m not shy about putting my face in the forefront when there’s an issue I consider worth taking a stand for. But tonight is different. The experience of the bombing…the sights, smells, and memories are forever imprinted in my mind and soul.”
Grim lines drew around his mouth. “I was there, one of the first on the scene, two blocks away from the Murrah Building when the blast went off, knocking me off my feet. The glass in the high-rise windows around me shattered and rained down on the sidewalks as I crouched into a ball, feeling particles of debris bounce off my back. My memories after that moment are as fragmented as the building itself…”
His voice filled the room with his remembrances of the blood, smoke, fear, and valor brought forth following the terrorist attack on the American heartland. We revisited the day again through his eyes. How he carried dead toddlers out of what was left of the day care center…calmed hysterical people searching in vain for loved ones…helped organize a triage center. He’d stared helplessly at the fragmented, blackened mass of concrete, glass and twisted steel that had so recently been an orderly structure of offices, reception areas, and snack rooms. Everyday people were working to support their families and fulfill their place in the world when a misguided, angry young man wiped them off the face of the earth forever.
Jason didn’t want to remember, but he couldn’t let us forget. Supporting the Memorial was necessary, but would never be enough for the families left behind. However, it was all we could do and must do to sanctify a place where evil had momentarily overtaken goodness. The Memorial honored the dead and encouraged the living.
The audience was pulled into his word pictures and overcome with the tide of memory. Most of the women had tears in their eyes, while the men held their faces in tight masks of restraint. Jason fought for emotional control and cleared his throat on numerous occasions to keep going. His eyes found mine again and again as he related the painful details of our collective days in hell.
“It won’t bring any of them back, but we can’t let the victims be forgotten in the mists of time. The Memorial not only honors the 168 people who died that day, but the hundreds who survived. We are all survivors of the bombing. You all remember where you were that day, what you were doing when you heard about it. Many of you felt the impact of the blast and knew something terrible had occurred. It’s a Memorial for all of us in the city, in the state and in the country. The Museum teaches about the impact of violence. I didn’t want to participate in a tragedy, but we must all participate in changing the patterns of violence. Good night and God bless you all.”
He walked through the room as people leapt to their feet in emotional applause. Men patted his back; women wiped their eyes. He never took his gaze off me. I stood up slowly, meeting his penetrating, soul stripping stare with tear-filled eyes. He grabbed my hand.
“Let’s get out of here.” I nodded, gathered up my purse and we exited into the cool of the gardens, the crowd still applauding as we stole into the night.
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