Two States of Being

It must have been clear from my inability to give precise directions or perhaps the way I was peering out the window…a little lost…a little unsure…that I wasn’t native. “Where are you from?” asks the yellow-taxi driver. “I live here now, but I’m from Oklahoma.” “Where you there for the bombing?” It is May 2002, eight months after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, and it is not the first time I’ve been asked this question. It will not be the last. I’m also often asked if I’ve seen a tornado. The answer to both questions is, “Yes,” but tornados are less terrifying than a day in April, a day in September. My being from Oklahoma seemed to form an immediate kinship with New Yorkers. We had had our hearts similarly broken. They knew I understood what they were going through. “Did you know anyone?” “How far away from the building were you?” “Did you hear it?” “Did you feel it?” I did not know anyone. I was about 30 miles away in Norman. I was asleep. But I felt it. Not the actual explosion, but like most Oklahomans, I felt the toppling of a world I never expected to be unsound. Time has a way of fragmenting memories: A phone call telling only to “turn on the news.” The shock. The confusion. Meeting with friends. Wondering what we can do…how we can help. Phone calls. More phone calls. “It is crowded downtown. Stay home. Pray.” We do. And then the stories begin. We tell our stories: where we were, who we knew, who was supposed to be there that morning, who was not. Those stories, that pattern of storytelling, are the same in New York: where we were, who we knew, who was supposed to be there that morning, who was not. I’ve had many friends visit over the years in New York, and sometimes they request to visit Ground Zero to pay their respects. Because I have yet to go the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, I do not go with them. Something in me wants to bow my head in Oklahoma first. The nearest I have ventured is to Trinity Church in lower Manhattan. St. Paul’s Chapel there served as respite for relief workers immediately following September 11 and later housed a large collection of cards, photos, letters, drawings, and memorials sent to New York from all over the world. As I stood in the chapel for the first time, my eyes glanced over all the flags and signs sending thoughts of peace and hope when they settled on the banner that would move me from quiet contemplation to audible sobbing. Hanging on the front of the balcony, just below the ornate pipe organ, the centerpiece of the chapel, it read, “TO NEW YORK CITY AND ALL THE RESCUERS: KEEP YOUR SPIRITS UP…OKLAHOMA LOVES YOU!!” On Sunday, September 11, I will join a group of friends on a great 30-mile walking journey around the city of New York. At 9:02, I will stop and respond, “Oh My Oklahoma, New York Loves You, Too.”

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