“Terror in the Heartland” read the headline in our morning newspaper 20 years ago. It was sprawled over a full-color photo of a firefighter holding a little girl. That image and headline are burned into my memory. Even though I lived far from Oklahoma City, the terror resonated with my teenage self. People went to work and never came home. Children went to daycare and never came home. And it all happened in our country. Now, as a resident of the Heartland, I cringe when I think of the bomber driving down the road less than a mile from our house in that truck full of explosives. People close to me can recall their buildings shaking miles away from the Murrah Federal Building.
The memories here are not just personal accounts. Locally, we have spent the last few weeks remembering the 168 people who died in that senseless act of violence, as well as those injured and those whose lives were irrevocably changed on that day. Over a thousand motorcycles rode past the National Memorial Museum in remembrance. The First Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City performed a concert of 168 voices on April 19. That day, local television stations broadcasted the yearly memorial service at 9:03. The names of all 168 victims were read and 168 banners now hang along 26.1 miles of Oklahoma City, as the city prepares for the marathon. Next Sunday thousands of people will run and walk those 26.1 miles of Oklahoma City lined with banners in a “Run to Remember”.
And remember we do, as a country. April 19, 1995 was a horrific day in the lives of many. So too was April 15, 2013. Two years ago, the Boston Marathon Bombing shook me to the core. Just a few weeks before I was to attempt my first marathon, Run to Remember, another bombing terrified me. That year we started the run with the traditional 168 seconds of silence, with three additional seconds for those lost in another senseless act of violence.
Nevertheless, as horrific as many of these memories are, there are others of hope, resilience, and faith. There are the stories of people rushing downtown to help and of being turned away because there was too much help. There are stories of rebuilding and coming together. While sharpshooters lined the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon route in 2013, all runners who were unable to finish the Boston Marathon were given free registration to the Oklahoma City Run to Remember. These two cities bonded and supported each other in their times of need.
Yet it is not enough to remember. We must continue to move forward and forgive. This week, proceedings in the Boston Marathon bombing case continue with sentencing hearings. As Catholics, we can continue to pray for a spirit of forgiveness in our hearts and in those who have been hurt by the actions of others, especially these two violent acts. We can also continue to pray for those who were hurt, killed, or lost someone to these tragedies.
It was, in fact, prayer that brought me through the Memorial Marathon. It was prayer that opened my heart to the city and my new home. Although I was not near the Murrah building twenty years ago, living in the heartland has taught me that hope, faith, and love can help communities and people heal. In the weeks before taking to the streets for my first OKC Memorial Marathon, so soon after the Boston Marathon Bombing, I was struck by the banners lining the streets of OKC. My training had been an exercise in prayerfully offering up difficulties. So, I decided that the banners would be a good reminder to pray. Several hours after beginning and 168 Hail Marys (plus three) later, I took my last steps over the finish line. It was a small personal victory to conquer the road, but the result of those prayers mixing with those of all peaceful people around the world is a great victory for good. While we remember these tragedies and a jury decides the fate of one man, we need to remember to pray. Let us offer up the sufferings of the families of the deceased, the sufferings of the wounded, and the internal sufferings that led the bombers to enact such violence against other human beings. May healing reach all hearts as we remember what happened in the Heartland.