Thursday, May 26, 2011

Carrying On From Oklahoma City

Jon with Hans Butzer
Oklahoma City, at least on this Thursday morning, seemed to be on vacation. Aside from the scattered construction crews jackhammering and refacing the sidewalks and the city streets there were precious few people walking around. We circled the refurbished downtown area, making turn after right turn until we pulled onto Mickey Mantle Avenue and parked outside the baseball stadium.

The will call windows were open; people of all ages were milling around, many wearing college colors and paraphernalia. A large group of Texas A&M fans walked up – two families, one with their son who would take the mound later that day. ‘Gig ‘em Aggies!’ they shouted as they posed proudly in front of this modest piece of history no one ever expects to see but manages to touch virtually everyone in some way. George Rooks was retired US Air Force, downtown that morning to draw some sketches of the canal - a hobby of his and quite a talent to boot. ‘No one will ever forget that day,’ he said, shaking his head and clutching his sketch book in one hand.

Jeremy, Jon’s friend from college, stood out as he approached in his dark blue pinstripe suit. ‘Yeah, the Big 12 Tournament is going on all this week,’ he said with a smile. Jeremy is from Oklahoma City and went on to proudly describe how the town has become so much more attractive in recent years. ‘This used to be all warehouses,’ he explained, pointing at the restaurants and the pubs and the tree-lined canal. At least one of us wondered whether the bombing had somehow helped spur on the renovation of downtown and, perhaps, a renewal of spirit.

Our plan as we drove around town earlier that morning was to say hi to Jeremy and then hit the road for Memphis; Jeremy had other ideas. ‘I’m going to call my wife, I know she’d love to see this,’ he said, motioning at the cross. ‘My kids too. Let’s go get some lunch.’ Ten minutes later we were parking in a lot a block from the Memorial.

While it would be odd to say that memorial is the pride of the city, it is without a doubt a stunning and, while sad, also quite peaceful spot. In the light of day the sight was less dramatic, but now aspects of the memorial grounds were more visible: the tiles that children painted, now part of a wall in the Children’s Corner; the stone walkway with piece of blackboard for kids to draw pictures and write messages; the notes, pictures and stuffed animals tied and tucked into the chain link fence along the western edge; the message of defiance and determination spray-painted on the brick of the Records Building, by a fireman doing rescue operations in the hours following the blast.

With another phone call Jeremy was able to set up a meeting with Hans Butzer, Oklahoma City resident and designer, along with his wife Torrey, of the Memorial. All of us expressed our sincere appreciation for the beauty and amazing atmosphere surrounding the memorial; in turn Hans saw Jon’s cross and listened to the story and was equally, deeply moved. ‘Something like this can truly inspire a lot of folks,’ he said. From one artist to another, the insight ran on a deeper level than most of us could comprehend. ‘It’s all about humanity,’ Hans added after adding a hand-written note to the hundreds already inside. This was one sentiment we could all easily agree on.

Over the past several days we’d met hundreds of people, listened to innumerable stories and soaked up the range of emotions raining down around us. Combine this with our experiences in Oklahoma City, particularly at the Memorial and in the Museum, and we realized the journey is not just bringing a piece of art across the country. It is also picking up pieces of the soul of our country and taking them with us to New York.