We are people of two minds now, the one that looks forward and the one that unwillingly and unexpectedly flashes back.
- Anna Quindlen, Newsweek
My timing couldnt have been worse.
On Sept. 3, 2001, I was standing inside the Oklahoma City Memorial, trying to grasp the horror of Americas worst ever terrorist disaster: the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building and the loss of 168 lives six years before.
The memorial is beautiful, drenched in symbolism, and gut-wrenching to all who come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived, and those who were changed forever (inscription at the entrance).
The image of what I had just seen became the subject of my next newspaper column, which I turned in the next Monday morning, Sept. 10, for the Wednesday News-Times.
We all know what happened the next day. Oklahoma Citys claim to Americas worst ever terrorism site was forever erased, and my now-obsolete story had already gone to print.
I was halfway through my next column by then, a fluffy piece about heaven that I thought would perk up any reader depressed by my Oklahoma City story. I dropped that idea, turned off the computer, and joined the rest of mourning America in front of the TV.
But deadlines are deadlines. So I kept my original topic and began researching what different religions believe about the afterlife. I wanted to know why the people who flew those planes through our hearts thought they would be transported to a glorious utopia because of their heroic deeds. My topic may not have been divinely-inspired but, at least for me, it was divinely-timed.
Heaven, the place, is described in poetic similarity by most religions: A golden land where sweet winds blow through jeweled streets eternal rest, the ultimate abode of peace, etc. But how a person arrives at this ultimate abode falls into two very different camps. For Christians, the way is paid by a Savior who forgives their sins, absorbs their punishment, and ushers them into the eternal presence of God; for most other religions, the way to heaven must be earned.
As we already know, following a day which shall forever bear the brand 9-11, when taken to extremes, the second view can breed disastrous results - especially when those who hold it fill a thin covering of religion with human hatred, self-styled politics, and accumulated grievances against those who believe another way. Their holy war has very little to do with Allah, and very much to do with leaders who hold sway over them.
But is it right for peace-loving people to retaliate? The familiar turn the other cheek isnt even the biblical formula for universal behavior. Instead, its the instruction Jesus gave to those who insisted on their rights in petty things. If they were insulted, or someone stole their coat, they were not to insult back or take their case to court. When someone kills 3,000 of your people and causes enormous damage to your property, thats not a petty thing. America had every human and divine authority to act against those who caused so much harm.
So, how do I feel today about what happened a year ago? For one thing, my faith in God and my allegiance to my country are much stronger. But on another subject, Ive changed my mind.
Perhaps my timing wasnt off after all. Maybe I was supposed to go to Oklahoma City first, not only to remember what happened there in April, 1995, but to see whats happened since. Oklahomas beautiful memorial is proof that recovery, even from terrible things, is not only possible, but in the process of remembering, we are changed, and we go on.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free lance writer. E-mail comments to seabara@ aol.com.)
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