"On the plains of Oklahoma, with a windshield sunset in your eyes like a watercolor painted sky, you'd think heavens doors have opened."
Fly Over States

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Standing Together Against Evil

In April 1995, I was barely 37 years old and living in Bethany, Oklahoma (a suburb of Oklahoma City)with my first husband.  My oldest child, age 19, was a college student in Texas and my two youngest children, ages 17 and 14, still lived at home.  We had two dogs, a huge yellow lab named Brew and a itty bitty, soft honey colored lab named Saxony.  Saxony could catch any frisbie ever thrown.   I worked for a state agency near the Health Sciences Center which is on the outskirts of downtown.  I had been a lawyer for less than two years and loved it. 

I am sure I arrived at work by 8:00 a.m., my regular time, and being a morning person, made the most of that first hour.  I specialized in employment law, regularly dealing with whistleblowing suits, discrimination claims and alleged wrongful terminations.  That morning, I was on the telephone spiritedly hashing out a resolution to a whistleblowing case with the attorney for the former employee.  Over my passionate objection, another attorney in the office with more seniority had agreed to settle the case.  Notwithstanding that I was adamently opposed to the settlement, I'd been left with the responsibility to hash out the details.  Such is legal practice. 
I had/have a love/hate relationship with the whole idea of whistleblowing.  My job at the agency was twofold - on the one hand, I counseled my agency on what the law required and did my level best to stamp out any hint of retaliation against people who reported wrongdoing.   I didn't do it grudgingly - I am genuinely disgusted by that sort of cowardly behavior. 

On the other hand, I defended the agency against charges of whistleblowing.  Over the years, I got to know many of the supervisors under emotionally trying conditions.  I liked and respected most of them.  I saw the real anquish they suffered when charged with something they considered to be ethically reprehensible.
In the course of time and over the years I've had the opportunity to look back and consider whether I ever took the "wrong" side in a whistleblowing case.  I have to say that in my case, although I loathe anyone who would bully someone who righteously reports wrongdoing (and I have done it, myself - more than once), I haven't lost a speck of sleep over defending my agency.  If it appeared whistleblowing had taken place, we generally dealt with it, quickly.   If not, we nearly always went to court. 

Most whistleblowing claims I dealt with arose from individuals with an ax to grind.  Typically, after being fired or disciplined, hurt feelings, rage, fear and resentment lead people to charging the agency with firing them/disciplining them out of retaliation for speaking out.  They frequently cannot admit to themselves that they might have given the agency cause, particularly when they have responsibilties at home.  Easier to blame the agency than to tell a wife that they did something that cost them their job.  And no one wants to lose face with their family or friends when they are disciplined by the boss.  Faced with sounding like a hero vs. someone who has failed, it is an easy call for some. 

Alternatively, there frequently were pre-existing personality conflicts between an employee and his/her supervisor that exploded in rage and a sense of victimhood once that superviser took steps to fire them.  Bringing charges against the agency allows them the opportunity to rage against the supervisor and attempt to embarass or get him/her into trouble at little cost to the former employee.  Whistleblowing cases are disturbingly personal and have been called "corporate divorces" for a reason.

But setting all that aside, on April 19, 1995, at 9:02 a.m., while I was on the phone doing my job, Timothy McVey, may he rot in hell, parked a renter yellow Ryder truck full of a fertilizer bomb in front of the Murray Federal Building, knowing it was full of innocent people and a daycare center.  McVey walked away, the truck exploded, and 168 souls lost their lives, including 19 precious children under the age of 6.
Here is a link to a number of photos taken at the time.   It was a glorious, sunny morning with a brilliant blue sky that gave way to a driving, icy rain that evening while rescuers frantically tried to find survivors.  Downtown was ankle deep in shattered glass.  Window washers on a nearby highrise were taken on a wild, awful ride when the blast hit them and knocked their scafalling.   I rushed to give blood - was second in line - and two hours later when I left the building, all I could see was a sea of ambulances.   Sitting in the street because there weren't survivors to rush to the hospital.   We didn't learn until later that Timothy McVey had been picked up by an vigilant policeman who noticed he was missing a car tag. 

Having been through the Oklahoma City bombing as well as the events of 911, I have had the opportunity to consider how each affected me.  I have to say the events of 911, sadly, made me fearful, weaker.  It some ways, it broke my spirit.  What really changed me at 911 was not the attacks by the terrorists.  It was being trapped in Washington DC in the aftermath with no one on control, surrounded by terrified people.  That damage deepened over the next year because I worked with people consumed with fear. Fear - and courage - is frequently contageous.
In contrast, the Oklahoma City bombing, didn't play out that way.  Instead of the mixed feelings and competing values, it made the city angry.  It made it stronger.  Part of that is because McVey had been captured and it was perceived the threat was gone.  More importantly, most Oklahomans are homegrown and they took personal offense at some b*stard coming into their town and, for political reasons, slaughtering innocents, including children.  It flat out pissed them off.  Sorry for the language but I couldn't feel stronger about this.  Even people who shared some of McVey's political leanings had no difficulting understanding that there are lines you don't cross.  And killing innocents - babies, even - is a bright, bright line.
If McVey had wanted to start a revolution, he should not have attacked a redneck place like Oklahoma City.  They recognized his actions, as soon as they understood what motivated them, as complete BS.  As evil.  No ambivalence, here.

Note:  Over the years, there have been a number of theories that McVey was part of a larger conspiracy and that others who were involved weren't captured.  I'll be honest - it wouldn't surprise me but it isn't something I've kept up with. 

It is with sadness that I read about all the commotion regarding the 911 Memorial at Ground Zero in NYC.  What a shame.  So many agendas, so many competing values, so many willing to harm others to get what they want.  Who was right?  Who was wrong?  Is terror ever justified?  Distrust depending on religion or ideology.  Accusations.  Competition.  On and on.  So dysfunctional.  So painful.  Some see the division as healthy.  I am not one of them.  Not after all this time. 

I re-visited the Oklahoma City Memorial, this morning.  It is a lovely, serene memorial.  I've been there before and have been meaning to return for the past year.  So different than what took place in NYC.  The sentiment in Oklahoma City was simple, shared and passionate.  They were outraged at that McVey son of a bitch.  They were disgusted that he tried to use politics to justify a slaughter.  They were insulted that McVey actually thought sane, moral people would adopt his warped belief that blowing up children was ever justified.  The idea that he thought people would rally around that monster was so outrageous that about all you could do was shake your head in wonder.  The vast majority shared faiths that condemn murder and since they spoke a similar religious language with a common religious heritage, they understood each other even if they didn't always agree.  They deeply mourned the loss of life and all of us wept over the children.  They celebrated the survivors and heroes who stepped up.  They vowed to not bend their neck to cowardly acts of terror.  And they vowed to make the City stronger.

Here are some photos of the Memorial.  This church, right next door, survived the blast:
Overlooking the Memorial you can see the reflecting pond that flows from one arch to another.  The eastern arch - closest to the rising morning sun - says 9:01.  The western arch, closest to the setting sun - says 9:03.  The bomb went off at 9:02, taking so many from this world:
Each person who lost their life has an empty chair with their name on it.  They are arranged in groups, depending upon what floor they died.
Immediately after the bombing, a makeshift memorial arose.  People left items on the fence erected around the bombed ruins and they continue doing that to this day.  The items are periodically stored and many are displayed at the Museum that is adjacent to the Memorial.

The Survivor Tree is a large Elm that survived the blast.  It was filled with metal and shards of glass.  It has been tenderly cared for since that day and serves as a symbol of the strong Oklahoma spirit. 

The Memorial is in the footprint of the Murray Building and they left much of the original wall that remained following the blast.
The Western Arch:
 Note that some chairs are smaller than others - the small chairs are for the children.:

 The eastern arch:
 The Survivor Tree:
 Looking southwest:

 Looking west:

It was good to reflect. 

 Happy Quilting, Penny, Evelyn and Pearl


Anonymous said...

I always love reading your reflections and thought on the brass tacks of situations that are often quite painful. The no nonsense kind of approach would be helpful here in NY. The nonsense that goes on surrounding the 9/11 Memorial, the rebuilding of the towers just makes me sad - it's not necessary.


Kate said...

I was getting on a plane in Tulsa just as the initial reports were coming on the news. I didn't get the full story until I was in my hotel room that evening. Then all I could do was cry as the story scrolled across the screen.

Thank you for sharing the story and the pictures. And Thank you for making me think this morning.

Barbara said...

many many thanks for this post - simply stunning photographs and very meaningful thoughts.

ranette said...

Thank you Penny.....

tisme said...

Made me cry

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I'm crying, too.


Anonymous said...

Thank you. I'm crying, too.


gowestferalwoman said...

this post made me sad. Ive totally forgotten that incident, and I apoligize. so much killing over so many years, at home.

Thank you for sharing these photos; they are a good reflection of what was and is.