Monday, April 19, 2010

Where I Was

This morning I heard on NPR that it was 15 years ago today that the bombing in Oklahoma City happened. It was the kind of event that demonstrated to Americans that we are not even safe from ourselves. It’s easier to be outraged at a foreign entity bombing something on our soil than it is when one of our own does it. We ask ourselves how something like this could happen, and how one of our own citizens can build a bomb and destroy the lives of other Americans with it.  And we never seem to come up with a good enough answer.

I was 21 when it happened. I hadn’t given much thought to anything in Oklahoma City. I’d never been there. I didn't know anyone who lived there.  It’s one of those cities in a part of the country that I hadn’t spent any time in. It's the kind of place that is far away, and that I'd end up reading about in the paper.

I was in Tasmania on the day that it happened. I had just returned to the city of Hobart after spending a few days at Mt. Field National Park, just outside of Hobart. The night before I’d spent the night in a picnic shelter in the park, on a mattress I’d borrowed from the ranger’s station. I was out of money, and woefully unprepared for the fact that the hostel I’d stayed in the night before didn’t accept Visa. I paid cash for the one night in the hostel, assuming that I’d find an ATM in the morning. The closest ATM was 16 km away, I’d learned the next day. I had $8 in my pocket, precisely enough to get the bus back to Hobart on the day after that.

I decided that I’d rather spend the day exploring the park and figure out my accommodation situation later on, than walking the 16 km to the bank. I’d met the park ranger, who allowed me to borrow the mattress. Just before sunset I made camp in the picnic shelter, and turned down a ride back to Hobart from people who may or may not have been perfectly normal people. I made a fire. I ate some food I had in my pack. I set my travel alarm clock for 7 so that I would have plenty of time to wake up, clean up and catch my bus.  I was woken up in the middle of the night by a wallaby plundering the nearby trash can.  Other than that I slept peacefully. 

When I returned to Hobart the next morning, I wandered into a café for breakfast. It was over a bagel and hot chocolate that I learned the news of the bombing. Another patron had left a copy of a newspaper behind and I read it while I ate. The picture of the Murrah Building stretched over the front page, a cut away view revealing all of the building’s floors. I stared at it in awe, and then read the article. While I was exploring a beautiful park, a bomb had exploded in my country.

Oklahoma City was ten thousand miles away from Hobart. Even though I didn’t know anyone who lived there, I numbly shuffled through the streets anyway with a feeling like my country had just changed for the worse.

Later on, in the hostel, I met a German woman who had asked me what I thought about the bombing. I asked her “Well, what would anyone think? It was a horrible thing that happened.” She nodded and said that it was a silly question, and she apologized for asking it.  Even though it didn’t impact my life directly, I felt very cold-hearted when I thought of it that way.  Almost as if I was thinking "Well, it has nothing to do with me... la de da."  Well, what did I think of it?  A silly, yet loaded question.

To a lot of people I’ve never met, today is the anniversary of the day they lost a loved one in a senseless act of violence and stupidity. To those people it was the end of a life.  But now I look at this event and all I can think is “Now, what the hell was that for?”

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