the strength of beauty

This past weekend, I was at a conference in Oklahoma City. Having never been there, I hoped there might be a chance to see the memorial at the place of the horrible bombing that happened in their downtown in 1995. I saw an image of the site in the airport, but then the rest of our time was cloistered in a hotel some distance from where the Murrah building once stood, where the memorial remains. Death and its markers both draw and repulse me. There is something very big about this always: deep, brooding meaning that requires a direct and lingering look for understanding.
But this morning, back to the airport I had to go in the hotel shuttle. I asked the elderly Hispanic driver, who has called OK City home for 30 years, what it was like for him that day. He told me where he was, and how he felt: both the literal blast and then the emotional aftershock. There was injury upon injury as assumptions and then facts came in. Rumors flew wildly in the first hours, and someone thought the bomber had to be Hispanic. “We were all very sad,” he said, speaking for every person in the city. 19 babies died that day senselessly, and 149 adults had their lives blasted away by one evil action.
I asked my driver to tell me about the memorial. He said softly “it is so beautiful. . . it is so beautiful.” I am still pondering his response. The images I have seen of the chair-like structures in the space have never struck me as beautiful, aesthetically or even as an idea. There needs to be a way to mark it certainly, and to represent each life stolen. He described how there are trees and lovely landscaping all around the site now, and at night there is light emanating from every chair base. These descriptions maybe explain his response, but I think there has to be something far deeper in what he said: “it is so beautiful. . . ”
He says it in pain and in release, in wonder and in incompleteness of understanding. What a wonder it is, that beauty can be strong enough to be a balm for grief, that it even can begin to heal after such wonton evil. This is mystery.

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