Friday, September 18, 2009

State Memories Project: Oklahoma

Two of my all-time favorite students, Katelyn and Sarah, qualified for Nationals in Student Congress at the University of Oklahoma in 2001. On the Sunday before the tournament started, we went to the Alfred P. Murrah Building memorial downtown. It was gorgeous in its simplicity…168 empty chairs…19 of them a little smaller than the others. I’d have to say it’s more impressive than any similar memorial I’ve ever been to.

The day we happened to visit, however, was the day before Timothy McVeigh’s execution. Therefore, quite a few family members seeking closure were visiting, heading out to their lost loved ones’ chairs (only family are allowed off the paths to touch the chairs). Additionally, there were TV crews and cameras from around the country crawling all over the joint.

I remember a woman from somewhere in the Caribbean leaning in front of a camera and saying something like “Barbados says hello! Hello from Barbados!” when the cameraman very professionally and politely replied “Excuse me, ma’am, could you please step aside so I can film the family member down there?” (Paula, my coach at Columbine and one who knows something about media hordes descending on tragedy, later told me that the woman was doing the family a favor by keeping the camera off of them.)

Katelyn, Sarah and I then wandered along the mourners’ fence, where people leave tokens of remembrance for the victims. I was most moved by a Columbine HS discount card…perhaps left by a CHS debater? As we were wandering, occasionally talking about some items we saw, we were interrupted by a professional-looking young woman.

“Hi. Would you guys mind wearing this microphone? Just keep walking and saying what you’d normally say, but would you wear this microphone while you do it?”

Turns out she was from the local Fox station in Boston. We were going to be on the news back there.

If I had it to do over again, I’d have refused the microphone, but I wore it, and Katelyn, Sarah and I wandered the wall, perhaps over-aware of what we were saying, but trying to act normal and appropriately reverent—while miked for an audience of strangers.

It is a testament to the memorial that the dignity of the place won out over the circus atmosphere.

No comments: