April 19th: Bearing Witness

You ask me why I wear black today, why I mourn today, why I keep a time of silence today.

You ask me why, and you don’t know what I mean when I say, “I’m from Oklahoma City.”

What I mean is that I grew up in the shadow. In the shadow of a tree that still stands. In the shadow of 168 white chairs across a lawn. In the shadow of two gates that mark before and after: 9:01 am, 9:03 am.

I grew up in the shadow of the Memorial; I grew up in the shadow of the bombing.

I was a girl who held onto numbers tightly, and among the numbers that I learned from childhood were these: 168 lives, 19 children, 9:02 am. There are 168 chairs for 168 lives, 19 of them smaller for the 19 children. There are 168 seconds of silence, every year, 9:02 am Central time.

That is when the bomb went off; that is when Oklahoma City changed forever.

Two years ago, at his speech at the 20th Anniversary Memorial Service, FBI Director James Comey said, “But it is not the moment that defines us. It is not the act itself that shapes our destiny. It is what comes next.”

I grew up in the shadow, but I also grew up in the light. The light of what came next. The light of what still comes next.

This is the story of my city, light emerging from darkness. And by virtue of this being the story of my city, it is my story.

And so today I remember. I remember the scar, though it heals. I wear the scar on this day. I honor what was lost; I honor what has grown in my lifetime.

This is for you, OKC.

I was only a few days old, and I didn’t live in Oklahoma City. Didn’t have any family there. Not then. It would be more than two years before I would move there.

But I grew up in Oklahoma City, didn’t know any other home. Just because I can’t remember, just because my family didn’t live there, doesn’t mean the day doesn’t have meaning for me. I grew up in the scar tissue.

A city doesn’t grow past something like that day. It’s there in the soil, feeding. It’s there in the skin, never fully matches the rest. Maybe others stop noticing eventually where your nutrients came from or what exactly it is knitting this place together, but it is there, if only they would stop and look.

Every new Oklahoma City Thunder player visits the Memorial. Every single one. Because if you are going to live in this city, if you are going to represent this city, you have to try to understand what it is, who it is, how it came to be what you see now. Telling the story without April 19th is impossible.

We were met with darkness, and we ran towards it bearing light, and many years on we keep running.

We will not forget. We will never, ever forget. Even those of us who can’t remember.

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