Speak Tenderly to the City

An annual remembrance of the Oklahoma City bombing, April 19, 1995

The nice boy next door? No, this is the most common face of terrorism in the United States: a white, born-and-bred U.S. citizen—not the turbaned brown face so many prefer to revile. This terrorist's name was Timothy McVeigh, and he was one of two native-born, white U.S. citizens who perpetrated the 1995 Oklahoma City terrorist attack, a bombing that killed 168 people, including toddlers in a daycare center.

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Ladies and gentlemen and children: See before you the crumbled concrete and teddy bears, the wreaths and forlorn love notes, the postcards and classroom projects, the flags and bobbing balloons, the flowers and final farewells to one hundred, sixty-eight souls.

Ladies and gentlemen and children: Blown from the earth with a single obscene gesture, they were three months, they were seventy-two years, they were one and twenty-three and thirty-six and forty-two and fifty-five and sixty-seven; good ages all, now etched on stones in perpetuity.

Ladies and gentlemen and children: Look at their faces, unprepared to be memorialized, giggling from family photos, posing for graduation pictures, caught unaware at backyard barbecues, accepting awards for deeds well done, squinting through sunglasses and wind-whipped hair, smiling from beneath coquette eyelids, flirting with an unlived future.

Oklahoma city bombing
Ladies and gentlemen and children: Do they now soar on the wings of eagles? Do they join celestial choirs, belting out the blues for those left behind? Do they rest safely where a god is nigh? Do they fly wrapped in angels’ wings and draped in patriotic colors? Do they heed the solemn psalms we offer up, the precious quilts we stitch with tears, the “Taps” we sound in stolid sorrow?

Ladies and gentlemen and children: Do you know? Their memories will never leave us—children’s cries that faded before they could be found; a boot, impotent with only its warrior’s leg; the futile reach of a toddler’s severed hand; the sacrifice of a limb for life; the heart of one who would serve and protect gone limp as the baby’s body he cradled.

Ladies and gentlemen and children: Can you see? In the victims’ absence, a flag caresses a face, memorializing last kisses never placed on loved ones’ lips. Children’s words, pure and simple, are searched for some serenity. Voices are joined to find a remnant of harmony in harrowed hearts. Hands are clasped, ribbons are donned and candles lighted to lead wounded survivors to comfort.

Ladies and gentlemen and children: Can we help but wonder just how great is the resilience of this human spirit? Can we help but question that a god would make such a day as April 19, 1995? And when the doubts are done, when grass grows where battlements once stood, can we find inspiration in the agony? Can we calm the anguish and fill the void with the wonder of hope and peace?

Ladies and gentlemen and children: Speak tenderly to the city and love each other well that darkness may not have its way.


Visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.

Isaiah 40:1-10

First published in 1996 by The North County Times.

Photo credits: Terrorist image from biography.com; OKC National Memorial image by K-B Gressitt.