Dates of historical significance are often like that. Memorizing them for a test means nothing to us. But there are dates that live in our memories because of how they occurred during our lifetimes, because of the personal impacts we felt or shared.
It happened 25 years ago, in Oklahoma City, a month before I moved to Joplin, Missouri. I shall never forget.
We remember dates. We remember events. All of us have moments when we remember where we are when a certain thing happened. For me, those events go something like this:
- July 20, 1969: I know I was watching television in my living room. The image was blurry and in black-and-white. Walter Cronkite narrated as man stepped onto the moon for the first time. My fourth birthday was still a month away.
- August 16, 1977: I was in the back seat of the family car, just 9 days from my 12th birthday. We approached a traffic light near the DeVille shopping center in Oklahoma City when a person announced on the CB radio that Elvis Presley was dead.
- March 30, 1981: It was my sophomore of high school in Tuttle, Oklahoma. I was in Mr. Dan Kennedy's writing class at the end of the hall when the news came over the radio that President Ronald Reagan had been shot.
- January 28, 1986: I was student-teaching in a speech classroom at Yukon (Oklahoma) High School. One of the girls returned from using the restroom to inform the class that the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after taking off. My dad was laid off of his job on the same day.
- September 11, 2001: I dropped off my fourth graders at Music and passed through the office at Cecil Floyd Elementary in Joplin. A parent came to the counter to ask the secretaries if we had seen the news of planes hitting the Trade Center Towers in New York City. My wife lost her job on the same day.
This list really highlights the news of the day. These events are all ones that I could read about, listen to, and watch through media outlets. But the real events that are closer to me are the ones I could walk outside my door to see. Obviously, one of those events occurred on May 22, 2011, when we walked out the door and saw the devastation an EF5 tornado that destroyed much of Joplin and took the lives of our friends and neighbors.
The first of our huge, dated, walk-out-the-door, personal experiences for me (outside of marriage and baby births) happened 25 years ago today: April 19, 1995. At 9:02 a.m., as I was giving a spelling test to my class of second graders some five miles away, domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh's truck bomb exploded in downtown Oklahoma City. I heard the boom. I felt the shockwave. None of us knew what it was.
As the lead teacher at Buchanan Elementary, I was responsible for the safety of students and staff. Shortly after the blast, I delegated a parent to watch my students as I locked the school doors and counseled the staff. With only one television (located in the library), information was sketchy. I stood at the front door and let parents in when they wanted to hug their children or check them out of school for the rest of the day.
One of my students, SAMANTHA, attended a few of the memorials in the coming weeks as we ended our school year, and our class dealt with the subject honestly and openly in the remaining days. Oklahoma City was rocked to the core. But just as Joplin experienced following the 2011 tornado, people stepped up. One evil act triggered countless good deeds and innumerable prayers.
I remember the date, the time, and the exact place I stood on the carpet of my classroom, but more than that, I remember the effect that event had on me. In the process of recovery, I visited the site. I stood at the fence with an unstable building on the other side. After the rubble was cleared, I stood at the same fence to see the empty field. And I have since appreciated the memorial and museum that make up the Oklahoma City National Memorial. I am stronger now than I was before. I know more about recovery than I did before a terrorist attacked my country. That experienced helped me immensely in the aftermath of the Joplin tornado.