I’m writing this on Sunday the 19th, which means you’re reading it on Monday the 20th. April 20. If ever a date deserved the #abandonallhope hashtag, it’s April 20. Very dire portents — Hitler’s birthday, anniversary of the Columbine shootings. Today, the 19th, was the Branch Davidian fire anniversary and the event it ultimately inspired — the Oklahoma City bombing. The Boston Marathon bombing was on April 15, and I cannot tell a lie: I was sure it was carried out by domestic terrorists seeking to make a point about taxes and freedom and the rest of it. Of course, they were domestic terrorists, but not that kind.
It’s a zero anniversary for the OKC bombing. Twenty years. At 20 years, you should understand pretty clearly what led to a tragedy like this, but I’m not sure we do. Anyway, I’m grateful that Hank Stuever posted this piece from his WashPost reporting days, about the father of one of the victims, who chose to forgive Tim McVeigh. JefftMM, you’re going to want to read this, if you haven’t already.
I will admit it: I find forgiveness difficult. I suspect most people do. As a child I picked scabs and I guess I never got over it, but let’s face it: Forgiveness is hard. That kind of forgiveness, to forgive a man who murdered your child? That has to be the hardest kind of all. And the funny thing is, I think I’m fairly good at empathy; it’s what makes people interesting to me. But to use that empathy to get to a place where I can let an offense go? Man, is that hard. So I recommend you read Hank’s piece about Bud Welch, and take its lessons to heart, to the best of your ability.
Here were some key phrases: Finding his way to a mercy he still doesn’t fully understand and “What’s the difference between ‘reconcile’ and ‘forgive’? Really, I don’t know,” he says and I finally realized it was an act of vengeance and rage if we killed either one of those guys. And that was why Julie and 167 other people were dead — because of vengeance and rage. It has to stop somewhere.. I think that’s the hard part. The surrender to something you don’t understand, especially when people like McVeigh haven’t even asked to be forgiven. You just have to do it.
That might be the final lesson of April 19, 1995, as it was lived in Oklahoma City and everywhere else in this country. Which brings us to the other thing I dug up today, also an old piece, from the Observer. It’s about the OKC memorial, which opened with a speed after the event we’ve heretofore not seen in this country. I think Philip Weiss gets to the problem with it:
There are so many symbols here as to obliterate the poetry of any one of them. There are so many faces on televisions inside the museum describing their pain to you that you feel wrung out like a rag. Worst of all, the memorial has nothing to say about the important historical issues that triggered Timothy McVeigh’s madness.
The problem is obvious. “The wishes of the Families/Survivors Liaison Subcommittee are to be given the greatest weight in the Memorial planning and development process,” said the memorial’s mission statement. This was a mistake. The victims’-rights movement has been an important one that has reformed the justice system. But here it has gone too far, and turned a memorial that should address issues of national disunity into a site for the bereaved. When Mayor Bloomberg said recently that he does not want a “cemetery” downtown, he may well have had in mind the field of 168 chairs, which resembles a graveyard and is inaccessible to the general public, roped off on the day that I and hundreds of others showed up by the busload. In 100 years, those chairs will seem meaningless.
Meantime, the memorial declines to show the curious where McVeigh parked his Ryder truck packed with fertilizer. And the National Park Service Rangers who work the site sound like funeral-home workers.
A memorial should emphasize the Who, of course. But if it says nothing about the Why, it fails. I guess Maya Lin’s Vietnam memorial in Washington D.C. began the contemporary emphasis on the Who; while local monuments might carry every name that perished, a national one never did (or rarely did, I’ll qualify; what I’m really saying here is, “I don’t know of one”) until Lin’s tremendously sad wall. Lin is a native of Ohio, but of Chinese ancestry, and the wall has a certain Asian minimalism, the way it starts small and swells to the crescendo of 1968 and then tapers off again. If it had been left alone it would have been perfect, but the usual squawkers started meddling with it, so now we have a row of flags, and the Three Ethnically Diverse Soldiers Looking at It, along with the Don’t Forget the Nurses statuary.
But it’s real legacy is the names. The 168 chairs is a direct result of the Vietnam wall, and I don’t see how you can deny that. Where else would you leave your bouquet of flowers? Who even mourns in cemeteries anymore? I think Weiss’ broader point, that memorials have to be more than just places for flowers and teddy bears, is very sound, though. Time has to pass, sometimes, for that to happen. When I was a Knight Wallace Fellow, we had a seminar one night by the man who chaired the 9/11 memorial committee in New York, and I asked him the too-soon question. He said that was probably true, but hey — New York City real estate can’t just sit around waiting.
Maya Lin did that one, too.
So. New subject.
Did anyone read the story in the New Yorker a few years ago about the guy who was running fake marathons? Or fake-running fake marathons? Whaddaya know, it too is online. A good story about deception and the way it can ensnare a person. Interesting that it happened to be marathon running; remember when Paul Ryan said he’d had a sub-three hour marathon, but “couldn’t remember” his exact time? A friend of mine, who’s run three Bostons, said, “You NEVER forget your time once you break three, or in fact, ever.” He’s right. There’s really nothing like a marathon to encourage obsession, is there? The months of training, the online training diaries, the months of boring your friends with your workouts (“Hey, come back here, I wasn’t finished!”), and finally, the race itself. It really lends itself to lying and deception. So the guy in the New Yorker story is one, and now there are two (that I know of), a woman who crossed the finish line in St. Louis to “win” the women’s race, only not really. It’s funny when you consider bragging rights is all you’re competing for in most of these races, and honestly, a winner’s story isn’t all that interesting. I’ve never heard one, I should say; who knows people who actually win marathons? Those are super-humans who are usually on the next flight out of town and en route to their next training run, culminating in the Olympics or something.
Lying about your marathon performance is like lying about yoga — what’s the point?
So now this weekend, that started out warm and sunny, is closing out gray and chilly. Such is April, but I’m still glad we got a gorgeous couple of good ones before the week begins. We were owed, dammit.
Happy week, all. Let’s get it going.
alex said on April 20, 2015 at 8:01 am
along with the Don’t Forget the Nurses statuary.
That’s the ROFLMFAO line of the day! It reminds me of my old condo association, where good ideas never saw the light of day, or were unrecognizable by the time everyone had put in their two cents’ worth. Or as a colleague once wrote on an index card passed to me during a particularly excruciating meeting, “A platypus is a horse designed by a committee.”
It’s 4/20 and no mention of Mary Jane? I guess there aren’t any big celebrations around here, but a friend e-mailed me last year about being in San Francisco on 4/20. Viewing Golden Gate Park from the Haight, he said the cloud of pot smoke looked like Hiroshima at first and before long Nagasaki too.
So, we’re about to add another vehicle to our stable. I’d been contemplating a new Toyota Corolla S because I wanted a new car with a manual transmission as well as Toyota’s quality and longevity. Then I find out about an immaculate 2000 Sebring convertible with only 50K miles on it that has been kept in the south and would cost me chickenfeed. So I guess I’ll defer my desire for a new car for a while and take on a fun old one. The 1996-2000 Sebring has always struck me as an all-time American classic just like the ’57 Chevy. It has a friendly look to it somehow. It’s also underappreciated at the moment because there were so many of them made and most that are still running look like beaters. But that’s how it was for the ’57 Chevy before it became iconic. In 1969 my dad sold his ’57 for $100. A decade later he was sorry he had ever let it go.
Wim said on April 20, 2015 at 8:08 am
When I first heard about the OKC bombing, and that the target was a Federal building, I thought maybe it was AIM going all-in. Still got my ‘Free Leonard Peltier’ button somewhere. A month or so later had a lunch with an Oklahoma regional poet who spoke of going to several of the child funerals and how nearly every one played ‘Itsy-Bitsy-Spider’ as a favorite song of the deceased toddler. She may have just made it up. I caught her fibbing about other stuff.
Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on April 20, 2015 at 8:42 am
Thanks for the re-post of the Hank Stuever story. That’s a keeper. Humor, sorrow, hope, all candidly and clearly presented.
beb said on April 20, 2015 at 8:53 am
I have a similiar story to Brian Stouder’s about 9-11. I was at work without TV and my wife calls with the news. In one of her later calls she says “They’re gone!” and I’m like “what’s gone?” and she says “the twin towers” and I think that can’t be: how can skyscrapers disappear.
The field of chairs doesn’t do anything for me by way of a memorial. I have no idea of a better approach, though.
Forgiveness is hard. It’s easy for me, safe in Detroit, to say executing the Boston Marathon bomber would only make him a martyr to someone’s cause. But if I were one of those whose hands and legs were blown off that day I don’t think I could be a charitable or forgiving.
Cheating on a marathon run does seem strange since, as Nancy points, all you get are bragging rights. Maybe they get off on the smugness of having pulled one over on the people. But it reminds me of the cheating scandal in Atlanta where some teachers look to be sentenced to some really hard time for fudging the numbers of a ‘must-pass’ test given to their students. This is the inevitable result of basing teacher’s employment on how well their students do on a test. Teaching to these tests is eating up too much valuable school time resulting in our kids learning less then they could have.
(Two more rants and I’m done….)
Rawstory reported on a village in Missouri which just elected their first black woman as mayor. In celebration 5 of 6 police officers, the village’s AG and a water plant operator all abruptly resigned. It’s like “wow!” just wow. The racism runs deep in Missouri.
On Salon a shrill atheist argues that some of the Godliest men running for president are members of some really bizarre Christian Cults. The implication, I think, is that if these people want to run on how religious they are then they’re going to have to live with people questioning the Christianity of their religions. It does seem like most of the Republicans believe in a religion that stops reading the Bible after Judges. No one ever talks about Jeses’ new Testament.
Oh well, It’s going to be a long 16 months till the next election.
Suzanne said on April 20, 2015 at 9:22 am
As to the marathon thing, I remember a number of years ago when the Chicago Marathon weather was unusually hot and at least one person died. What was enlightening to me was reading the comments on a piece about it in the Tribune. Way more than I would have thought did not find it odd that someone would risk death to finish and these commenters really laid into non-runners who questioned why you wouldn’t just stop if you started feeling like, well, death.
I watched a half-marathon a few years ago and saw at least 8 or 10 people carted off in an ambulance and others barely able to stand as they crossed the finish line. Good for them, I guess. It’s not for me.
BigHank53 said on April 20, 2015 at 10:00 am
The memorial at Virginia Tech is actually not bad:
Most photographs of the thing shoot from the front and slightly below, so it looks like it dominates the building behind it:
There’s actually a road and bus stop between the memorial and the building.
The biggest controversy was whether or not there was going to be a 33rd marker, since the shooter was also a Tech student. I can see why they left him out–who would want to have the marker next to his? Also, there wasn’t a lot of why to explain…unless you wanted to explore the failures of America’s mental health care system.
Joe K said on April 20, 2015 at 10:33 am
FYI, Albert Gore also couldn’t remember his supposed marathon time either.
I’ve run a dozen, first in 4:07, fastest in 3:47, now glad to finish in 4, in almost all races we now wear a chip making it very hard to cheat. I was in D.C. A couple summers ago and took a very early, like 5:30 am run thru D.C. Pass the White House, World War Two memorial up the steps to the Lincoln Memorial, came around a corner and there was the wall, stopped me in my tracks, I stayed a distance away as I felt I wasn’t dressed proper to go up to it. It brought up a throat lump, then I saw the three soldiers and the nurses, and maybe I’m in the minority’s but I thought they were right where they should be, I’m a bit particular to the nurses as my niece is a lifer army nurse.
Off to watch Boston
adrianne said on April 20, 2015 at 10:49 am
I actually went to the NYC memorial this weekend with a friend in town celebrating his 60th anniversary. We didn’t go to the museum. I thought the continuing wash of water into the footprints of the towers was very moving. A family was there putting flowers and a small photo of their loved one, who was only 38 when he was killed. The takeaway that I got from the memorial was how (relatively) few female names were on there. The 343 firefighters were, of course, mostly men, but so were the traders from Cantor Fitzgerald and other firms.
brian stouder said on April 20, 2015 at 10:59 am
a digression –
Gotta just love the world-view of Big Corporate F*ck All Y’All moral zombies. Here’s an article about Lumber Liquidators losing litigation, in their bullying attempt to silence people who say that their “Chinese-made laminate flooring contained formaldehyde levels in excess of California standards. The state’s Proposition 65 requires businesses to disclose chemicals known to cause cancer or other health problems.”
Lumber Liquidator’s reply to that allegation? “Subsequent tests commissioned by financial services company Raymond James found that the final flooring product effectively “sealed in the emissions.”
You bet your life, baby!
Kim said on April 20, 2015 at 12:03 pm
What moves me about the Virginia Tech memorial is that it used what students created in the hours after the shooting – a semicircle of 32 “Hokie Stones” on Drill Field – to inspire the final monument. I have been to that semicircle many times and it does embody the spirit of the people and place, I think.
Like BigHank53 @6 says, what other explanation is necessary? The state responded by throwing a lot of money at mental health, then taking it all back after a couple years. Creigh Deeds’ son’s story (Creigh is a well-regarded state senator in Virginia) is yet another tragic chapter in a book that really needs to end.
Deggjr said on April 20, 2015 at 12:42 pm
Al Gore, 4:54:25 in 1997 – http://www.marinemarathon.com/MCM_Vault/Famous_Finishers.htm … not memorable perhaps. FYI.
Julie Robinson said on April 20, 2015 at 1:43 pm
Who wouldn’t be partial to nurses? They’re my heroes, especially the ones that work in hospitals overnight, weekends, and holidays. All the hospital nurses I know have needed early hip replacements, too. It’s tough work.
Forgiveness, for me, is all about grace, so I can’t explain it well. It’s a gift I’ve received, but also prayed for. I’ve seen firsthand how self-destructive, self-poisoning holding on to grievances is. The hurt is never forgotten, but forgiveness gives me power to move forward. Peace, grace, forgiveness are all wrapped up together and without them I couldn’t function.
That said, I am also in favor of long prison sentences for those like Tsarnaev, and I’m not thrilled that John Hinckley has so much freedom.
4dbirds said on April 20, 2015 at 2:22 pm
I could forgive. I’ve never been able to carry a grudge. I also think that the murderers should be included in the memorial (Columbine, VT, Sandy Hook, etc). I’m a bleeding heart so I know I’m probably in the minority. However if I could go back in time, I would put a bullit in Hitler’s brain. Go figure.
4dbirds said on April 20, 2015 at 2:23 pm
Bullet. Wish that edit function was available.
Sherri said on April 20, 2015 at 2:40 pm
The definition of forgiveness that I’ve found most useful is that forgiveness is giving up hope of a better past. It’s not a one-time thing, do it and be done with it, but an on-going process, a choice to stop giving the other person so much control in my life. I’m an angry person by nature, and I can hold on to a grudge with the best of them, so it’s a struggle to keep letting go.
I’m opposed to capital punishment not because I expect anybody to forgive people like McVeigh, but because I don’t think that adding more violence to violence is a solution to anything. There are the pragmatic reasons, like the incredible bias with which the death penalty is administered in this country, the cost and time of death penalty cases, and contra Justice Scalia, the near certainty that we’ve executed innocent people. But more than anything, I think violence begets violence.
Jeff Borden said on April 20, 2015 at 3:31 pm
Perhaps the most stunning example of forgiveness was the Amish community in Pennsylvania after a madman entered a school and gunned 10 little girls near Lancaster, Penn. Members of the community almost immediately visited the killer’s family and prayed with them after telling them they held no animosity toward their son. There were more Amish at the killer’s funeral than non-Amish.
I was in awe when I read about it. I know it’s a closed and largely patriarchal society, but perhaps the Amish most practice the kind of Christianity that Jesus had in mind. They practice a form of grace, compassion and love that echoes Christ’s words in ways few other religions seem capable of. No one is ever hungry, poor, unclothed or unhoused in an Amish community.
brian stouder said on April 20, 2015 at 3:56 pm
Sherri – word!
And Jeff – Word, too!
Jolene said on April 20, 2015 at 4:43 pm
This year’s Pulitzers have been awarded. If you click on the category labels, you’ll see a brief blurb describing the winning entry in each category and will also find more links to the work itself. Catch up on all the good stuff you missed since last year!
alex said on April 20, 2015 at 5:10 pm
Forgiveness is really a present you give yourself. Bitterness is just a guilty pleasure, an intoxicant that’ll kill you as surely as drugs and drink.
Deborah said on April 20, 2015 at 5:36 pm
I actually think Maya Lin’s Viet Nam memorial is the best thing she’s ever done, and to think she was a student at Yale when she did it, and I think she only got a B for it in class. I haven’t been to the memorial in OKC, have only seen pictures which are hard to get a feeling from, you obviously have to go to the place to get the full impact. I looked it up and it was designed by an architect husband and wife team. The WTC memorial was designed by Michael Arad, an Israeli American architect, and it about killed him. Memorials are often design competitions, and they get flooded with entries because they’re so interesting for designers. I would give anything to design a memorial of some kind.
Speaking of architects again, Have we heard from Peter lately?
Dexter said on April 20, 2015 at 6:07 pm
Alex, too bad you live about 50 miles too far west to be able to pull in WIOT-104.7 Toledo FM radio. On the way to Toledo and back today, a constant 4-20 celebration, head shoppes advertising 20% off bongs and everything else, and some were deep-discounting items of smoking enjoyment at a huge 42% off.
I enjoyed the programming; how often do you get to hear nearly three hours of stoners calling in , some really saying, “oh wow, man!”
Today was a medicines review, a weigh-in, blood pressure check, mundane stuff, and some phone numbers for me to call to get things speeded up so maybe I can see a surgeon a little quicker about my hip.
A sign above the nurse’s desk: It was Maury Povich looking at papers, saying “you’re written blood sugars log tells me you are doing fine, your A1C tells me you’re a liar.” (A1C is a drawn blood test diabetics take periodically to check average blood sugar levels).
A co:worker freaked out when a few Vietnamese refugees were hired at my old workplace. (They only lasted about a month, then quit) This guy had been shot-up badly and was saved only by a daring surgeon who tried some radial techniques which worked , saving his life. I think it was one of the FW dailies that did a feature about the patient and doctor, who meet once a year for drinks and dinner.
The patient had a raging hatred for Vietnamese that never left him. Some cannot let go.
Most Vietnam veterans left the war with an awe of will of the Vietnamese that they had fought against, like “Walter” in The Big Lebowski calling the Viet Cong “Sir Charles, worthy adversary”. Forgiveness happens for many, but never for all.
I remember I was very stoic as I walked down to 1968 and up to 1975 when I saw The Wall soon after it opened. The enormity of the experience affected me like this: I had prepared to find the names of seven soldiers and trace the names onto paper. However, seeing all the names, I found myself really wanting to walk the entire way, leave my mementos of my service at the base of The Wall, and quickly get the fuck out of there, di di mao! Dad and Mom, my daughter and my niece were along, and they were ready to move along too. I could not linger at all.
Hattie said on April 20, 2015 at 6:27 pm
Nice posting. I find forgiveness difficult, too, but, as you say, most of us do.
Joe K said on April 20, 2015 at 6:37 pm
I know of who you speak. John, correct? I see him at the Y, he worked at Dana in Fwa once when he was laid off From Auburn, nice guy, his surgeon lost track of him after he fixed him up, and was working I believe in the v.a. When John came in, during the examine the surgeon recognized his work.
alex said on April 20, 2015 at 9:36 pm
We need some vulgarity to kick things up a notch or ten.
Dexter said on April 21, 2015 at 12:59 am
Joe, yep. Glad to hear he’s still kicking. He went through hell alright.