Twenty years ago today, Timothy McVeigh blew up a truck bomb in front of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.
I was in the middle of my ministerial internship not so far away in Tulsa, and I was getting ready to go to church when the news came over the television. What I remember more than anything else that day was
- How quickly one of the national news anchors suspected Arab terrorists. That made no sense to me. In Oklahoma? I guessed it was a revenge act by someone who felt hurt by the government, like a bankrupted farmer, which was closer to the truth.
- I shaved my beard immediately. Tulsa had a decent Muslim population, in part from its petrochemical industry and training, and the mosque wasn’t far from where I lived. I feared for them — if that’s how the news went — and feared for me, since (for reasons I’ve never understood) I read Arab. And, indeed, had to escape a mob of drunk sailors, a couple of years prior. (Perhaps after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.) But I don’t recall any violence in Tulsa that night.
- I do recall the sadness. Particularly at a gay bar I went to that night. Many of the patrons were EMTs and ER nurses. But the devastation was so complete that they weren’t needed in Oklahoma City.