Remembering the Murrah Building

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As I look out at the beauty all around me this morning, l can’t help remembering another beautiful morning, very similar to this one. That clear, sunny morning of April 19, 1995 at 9:01 a.m. was a morning that innocence was taken from a great many people. I remember exactly where I was, and where I would spend the next few weeks of my life. I drove over a tiny hill on the edge of Norman, Oklahoma. I liked that little hill, because I could get a good look at some of the vast flatlands of Oklahoma. It was just a half hour commute into Oklahoma City where I worked at the satellite mental health clinic of a local hospital.

From the top of the hill, I surveyed the flat terrain below, (I say this tongue and cheek), the hill was more like a rise in elevation of 10 feet, smile, just enough to get a little perspective. On the horizon I saw a plume of black smoke punctuating the sky and vaguely wondered if it was some weird tornado, because it seemed too big to be simple smoke. As I drove closer it got bigger and I realized that there was a terrible fire somewhere very close to the clinic.

I opened the clinic door and walked into the lobby, but instead of the usual chaos and chattering of patients trying to get in to see their counselor, you could hear a pin drop. No one moved, chairs circled around the small TV as they starred blankly ahead. Coming in on the scene, I tried to make sense of what was before me. All I could gather from the chaos on the screen was that some kind of tragic accident was playing out. I looked to the usually bubbly receptionist, and pantomimed “what?” Her ashen face betraying her, she managed to utter one solitary word--explosion! Then she gushed, they don’t know yet, they think it was in one of the civil buildings, the Murrah Federal Building downtown, I think, you know the one, a couple of blocks south…her voice faded away, to be replaced by the head of the clinic. We’d stay open to accommodate anyone who needed to talk about the bombing this week; others may resume regular appointments on an as needed basis. Then tires screeched out of the hospital and sirens wailed as ambulances were called to the scene.

We went to our offices in a daze and began the long process of working with those who were dealing with the trauma they were witnessing. Layered on top of a myriad of other, deeply personal traumas, just added to their own personal chaos, and it was more then some fragile personalities could handle. This day brought something new, an ontological shock, which is seen when the world around us abruptly changes. When our beliefs about life are broken and forever destroyed. When we are forced to question our worldview. This day, everyone’s personal belief in the “Heartland” of America, was forever changed. Changed from a peaceful place where hay and other grains grow, cattle and horses graze lazily in country fields, to a place where terrorist bombed buildings. Where women and children were killed with a vengeance, and without conscience.

Oklahomans were not the only ones affected by this tragedy. There was a whole planet of citizens who wanted to believe that the country, the Heartland of America was a safe place to raise their children and that there were places that were unaffected by political and religious agendas.

Over the next weeks, I witnessed good people drive from all over the state, and as far down as Texas, bringing food and clothing to the doors of churches to aid the victims of this devastation. This act on its own conveyed the confusion of the times, and how otherwise healthy people were mentally processing. No one needed clothes or food, but they had to do something, they couldn’t sit idly by watching and waiting as rescuers, firefighters, and rescue dogs pulled people from the rubble. This was the only way people knew how to fix what they saw on their TV’s.

During that same time I worked the large church auditorium that housed the families who were waiting for some word of their loved ones. Would they find someone’s mother today, someone's father, a child or a baby? Parents waited. Children waited. No one spoke, we barely breathed. We waited for something, we didn’t know what, but I suspect we waited for hope to shine through the rubble, for a time that we could heal and be whole again. The victims of these senseless tragedies are not just those who were in the building, nor the families of the victims. The nation, and the world mourned our loss of innocence, but no one mourned alone, the planet mourned with us, we were and are all in “it” together, one people, and one planet, the Earth.

Shirley Ryan, PhD, CCHt is a practicing hypnotherapist and spiritual mentor. See more at.

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