A cold rain splashed into the block-long reflecting pool and washed over the grassy Field of Chairs. But the weather did not seem to discourage several hundred people from making their pilgrimage to a memorial that recognizes both the worst and best in people.
It was Sept. 12, the day after the 10th anniversary of the terrorists' attacks on New York and the Pentagon, when I made my pilgrimage to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. Until the 9/11 attacks, the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City was the most destructive act of terrorism to occur on American soil.
When Timothy McVeigh detonated a truckload of fertilizer and fuel oil in front of the nine-story federal building, 168 people died. Nineteen of the dead were children. More than 800 people were injured. And 324 buildings in a 16-block radius were destroyed or damaged.
But this is not an article about statistics. It is about heartbreaking loss, the price of hate and people's ability to overcome. It is also about the people of one city who were nearly brought to their knees by violence, and who years later reached out to help those in another city targeted by ruthless terrorists.
"Just as our fellow Americans came to help our state after the April 19th attack, hundreds of Oklahoma firefighters, emergency responders, volunteers and military personnel went to provide comfort and support for our friends in New York and Washington," Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin noted in a statement in September. "Out of both tragedies, we saw a compassionate spirit, and a resiliency in our communities and nation rise up in response."
The bond between the victims of both attacks spans nearly two decades.
Noting the shared "familiar pain," Kari Watkins, executive director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, discussed the guidance she and her staff now are providing organizers of the 9/11 memorial in New York.
Having a place for those affected by the attacks is an important and difficult step in the recovery process, Watkins told The Associated Press. "I think memorials are not meant to be easy. They're meant to cause people to remember and with that comes some tough memories," she said.
The Oklahoma City bombing memorial certainly is not "easy."
The outdoor memorial, which was dedicated in 2000, is comprised of a reflecting pool and a field of 168 bronze and stone empty chairs. Each chair rests on a glass base etched with the name of a victim. The smaller chairs among the nine rows positioned symbolically in the grass represent the 19 children who died.
At each end of the shallow reflecting pool are the "gates of time." Gate 9:01 represents the time of "innocence" before the blast. Gate 9:03 represents the second after the blast.
Salvaged wall fragments anchor the east end of the memorial. The names of people who survived the attack are inscribed on pieces of granite from the federal building's lobby.
In a section shared by the children's area and rescuers' orchard is "The Survivor Tree." Before the bombing, the tree provided the rare bit of shade in an asphalt parking lot. Remarkably left standing in the wake of the blast, the tree was nearly cut down during evidence collection.
But with the aid of an urban forester, the tree was saved and stands today as a symbol of human resilience. An inscription at its base reads: "The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us."
In 2001, a two-story museum was dedicated in the nearby Journal Record Building, which was built in 1923 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building withstood the bombing.
The museum is laid out in 10 chapters -- terrorism background; site history; tape-recorded water board hearing that captured the blast; confusion; chaos; survivor experiences; world reaction; rescue and recovery; watching and waiting; gallery of honor; funerals and mourning; impact; investigation; and hope.
An Army veteran and militia supporter, bomber Timothy McVeigh's reported motivation for the attack was his anger over the FBI's deadly standoffs in 1992 with Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge in Idaho, and in 1993 with David Koresh and Branch Davidian members in Waco, Texas.
In his authorized biography, McVeigh justified his killing of so many children: "I didn't define the rules of engagement in this conflict. The rules, if not written down, are defined by the aggressor. It was brutal, no holds barred. Women and kids were killed at Waco and Ruby Ridge. You put back in (the government's) faces exactly what they're giving out."
Those who died in the bombing ranged in age from 3 months to 73 years. They were ordinary people who woke up on a beautiful spring morning and went off to work, or were taken by Mommy to the day care center, or decided to visit a government office.
Reflecting on the hate-driven deaths and destruction in both the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11 attacks, Watkins said in September, "We have to figure out how to get things done in a way that is cordial and respectful. We have to somehow find common ground."
As visitors exit the Oklahoma City museum, a sign pleads: "May all who leave here know the impact of violence."
Dianne Hardisty retired in 2009 as The Californian's editorial page editor. On a cross-country road trip, she and her husband, John "Jack" Hardisty, visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.