I had the pleasure of receiving a note during the spring of 1980 from a cute classmate asking the following: “Will you go with me? Circle one: YES or NO.” Now, some girls who were overly confident or being coy might scribble in a “MAYBE” and circle that option, but seeing how nobody had really asked me this question before I circled the heck out of that “YES” with my newly sharpened No. 2 pencil until there was nothing left but a nub. I was so excited that I didn’t even speak to the poor boy until 1986 when we graduated from high school and our relationship had been over since, well, the spring of 1980. I was so socially awkward. Boys were just not my strong suit. Oh, who am I kidding? I still have no skill with relationships even 33 years later. I should have held on to that love note, though. It was probably the sweetest one I ever received.
I wonder why we don’t use this form of communication any more? I could certainly use this in practically every situation. For instance: Would you like chicken for dinner? Circle one: Yes or No. Are you going to clean up your room any time soon? Circle one: Yes or No. Would you like to know when you’re going to die? Circle one. Yes or No.
I know, I know. That was a question that might require a little more than a handwritten note. But in talking to my dear friend, Ree, about her recent trip to Shanksville, PA to visit the Flight 93 Memorial, I was reminded of my own visit to the memorial for the Oklahoma City Bombing victims shortly after Ben was born. I was in OKC for a business trip to learn about some HR software that is more than likely severely outdated by now. I used to love going on business trips on my own before, but this was my first trip as a parent. Leaving my baby behind was nearly unbearable. Regardless, whenever I visit a new city I like to try to do the touristy stuff, too. Might as well, right? I mean, traveling to OKC was probably not going to make it to my bucket list, so I needed to make good use of my free time.
A few years prior to my visit I was reading about the design of the memorial. The article stated that the memorial would consist of chairs, one for each victim who perished in the bombing. I thought to myself that it just didn’t seem like it was enough to honor the tragedy of it all. I thought, in all honesty, that it sounded kinda dumb. So, I drove myself to where the Alfred P. Murrah building once stood expecting to see a dinette set with no table. I apologize for my cynicism, I am in no way, shape or form making light of this tragedy. In fact, I quickly learned how wrong my original thought of it being dumb was. First of all, across the street from the actual memorial, there’s a beautiful statue of Jesus with His back turned to the building. His hands are covering His eyes and a plaque simply states: “Jesus wept.” I knew I was in for a heart crusher. I walked over to the memorial with a bit of trepidation, knowing that something awful happened just steps from where I was standing. It was dusk. My eyes focused on row after row of bronze chairs emitting a soft glow of light, trying to replicate or remind me that each chair stood for someone whose light had been needlessly extinguished way too soon. But the part that absolutely broke my heart were the little chairs that stood for the children who perished in that bombing. Their parents had no idea that while they were taking them to daycare that morning that they wouldn’t be picking them up once the work day was done.
I went back to my hotel and wrote a long letter to my infant son. I told him how hard it was to be away from him and that I just couldn’t bear the idea of ever being without him. This was all before neuroblastoma, of course, but I went on to explain in my letter that he was so very important to me and how I wanted to cherish every moment of our lives together. The memorial had served its purpose. A painful and humbling reminder that life is so very precious – and way too short.
I am fully aware of the fact that we’re all going to die. That fact, unfortunately, is just closer to the surface in our lives than it might be in the average person’s world. Most kids with Ben’s level and relapse rate of Neuroblastoma statistically do not have strong survival rates. And that sucks beyond reason. But I could walk out in front of a bus and meet my demise at any given time, or slip through a crack in the ice and drown, which is how I’m pretty sure I’m going to die. So, according to my abnormal and ridiculous fear, I technically only have to worry about the winter months. Regardless, we all need to appreciate each moment we have.
The passengers of Flight 93 manned up at the end. They knew what was coming and they made their last moments count. The OKC victims didn’t have the luxury of knowing. I can only pray that their last moments were painless, but the pain of the survivors and those who lost their loved ones is almost too much to bear. After my business in OKC was over, I couldn’t get home to my son fast enough. I felt like somehow my presence was going to keep him from ever leaving me. That I could always keep him safe. I wish that was how it really worked. The fact is that my presence has very little to do against the suffering he’s enduring. But he knows I’m there. I’m with him always. Until whichever one of us breathes our last breath first.
I tucked that letter away for him. I hope he gets to read it someday after I’ve slipped through that crack of ice and he’s living with his wife and kids somewhere wonderful. I don’t want to know how it unfolds before it unfolds. Sometimes I think I do, but in reality I need to focus on appreciating THIS day. THIS moment. Because that all any of us truly have.
So, in this case of circling one, I’m going to have to say NO.
Interesting – but weird – side note: I was the HR manager for the company that provided the catering at Timothy McVeigh’s execution in 2001. No, they didn’t provide his last meal. The food was for the media staked out in front of the prison before he was executed.
Beautifully written. I agree with you that the little chairs were just heartbreaking. I went back and toured the museum a couple days after I visited the memorial. It is amazing and so thoughtfully put together. There were many things that literally took my breath away. I will definitely take the tour again someday as I know there were things I missed.
You are such a beautiful writer. 🙂
Ugh. I totally missed the museum, must be because I went in the evening. Guess I’ll have to go back to OKC.
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