Joshua Wells, writing from Oklahoma City in the wake of events in Texas & Massachusetts
On April 19, 1995, at 9:02 AM, I was in bed. It was a rare sleep in day for me.
Normally I was out of bed by 6:00 or 6:30 in the morning, but I had tennis match that day, so I didn’t have to get ready for school or go through my normal routine. I was snuggled on the top bunk of one of three bunk beds in the bedroom I shared with my five brothers when I heard a boom and the house shook.
I guess most people might wake in a panic when they hear a boom and their house shakes, but those people aren’t from any of the great plains states in our magnificent country. It was April, the time of year when all of the nation’s weather meets in the middle of the country and creates some of the most beautiful, powerful, devastating, and magnificent weather events known to man. Where I come from, people head to the porch to watch the power of nature, rather than head to the cellar to take cover. My first thought was, “Oh no. That’s thunder. It’s going to rain and my tennis match is going to get cancelled.”
To the utter devastation of my home city, it wasn’t thunder. Instead it was the handiwork of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. They had created a blast that shook my home, eleven miles away from the detonation.
Our city was devastated by the death of 168 people. A daycare center was located in the Murrah building, and the lives of 19 children were snuffed out in an instant. The wounded totaled nearly 700. Nothing like it had been seen on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor.
There was fear, devastation, and pain. Parents of friends were dead. Psyches were wounded. An entire city was shut down. Yet these are not the things that are most poignant to me about the Oklahoma City bombing so many years later.
What I really remember are the teenagers who ran to the site of the blast and pulled people from the rubble within seconds of the blast going off. I remember the donations of food, water, and money for victims and first responders…more than could ever be used. I remember my father, the pastor of a local church, spending days in a building near the blast site telling family members that their loved ones’ bodies had been identified and comforting them until they couldn’t cry anymore. I remembered widows in our home because they lived out of state and didn’t have a place to stay while they made arrangements for the bodies of their husbands, not to mention plans for their unexpectedly new lives. I remember a nation embracing a small dot in the middle of nowhere that many of them had never spared a thought for prior to April 19, 1995. In short, I remember the love, resilience, and power that was generated in response to the hatred and anger of terrorism.
Today, mass terrorism is not a new experience for this nation like it was in 1995. The events of September 11, and now, the Boston Marathon Bombing, have added to the tally of dead, broken, and scarred.
One thing I do know…the healthy response to terrorism is not hatred, fear, and trembling, but love, empathy, generosity, compassion, and strength. That response was reaffirmed this week.
I don’t know what you believe about the Bible and it doesn’t matter for what I’m about to say. There is a verse that seems prescient today. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but one of power and love and wisdom.”
It’s times like these that we cling to symbols; where the identity of who we are takes on the broadest and least prejudicial scope.
It’s not because symbols have the power to comfort and change us in and of themselves, but because they represent what’s best about who we are as a people. Flags, religious icons, monuments, and statues remind that we are part of something larger than ourselves–a mass of humanity who runs towards those in need instead of away from them.
Over the past several years, one of the most powerful symbols in my life has become the U.S. Men’s’ and Women’s’ National Teams.
I don’t gather with others to watch our national basketball teams, and I barely acknowledge that the World Baseball Classic exists, but every U.S. soccer match will find me gathered with a group of brothers and sisters to show my affection and angst on behalf of a group of people I’ll probably never meet, but who represent me anyway.
My US National Teams is a special symbol. More than any other sport, in my opinion, they have the makeup, background, and ability to represent what’s best about us all. A son of a Mexican immigrants giving his all to provide support for the son of a Haitian immigrant.
German born offspring of American soldiers battle alongside a hard nosed Jersey boy and a rapping tattooed East Texan…who’s white I might add.
Nowhere else will you find a man who overcomes an obstacle like Tourette syndrome every day to perform at the highest level.
Because of who they are and the sport they play, they have the opportunity and responsibility to wear my colors and personify what’s best about my people.
So is it right that I’m thinking about June–and the qualifiers–on a day like today, in the aftermath of such horrific acts of dread and tragedy?
Yes. They’re my symbol of power and love in the face of adversity and I identify–most broadly with those around me–who are reveling in that same crest.