Visiting the Oklahoma City National Memorial

“Pain demands to be felt.”
–John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

When we decided to go to the Oklahoma City National Memorial, I truly didn’t think much about it. I thought, “we like museums” and “I heard there’s a lovely lawn with some commemorative chairs or something?”

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“If nothing else,” I thought, “I’ll get a few good photos.” I underestimated everything.


When you arrive you walk through the gates—across the top, facing the street are emblazoned the words, “We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope, and serenity.” If this is the mission statement—they have done their due diligence.

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Please check out the website that talks about all the symbolic elements contained within the outdoor memorial as there’s no way I can cover it all. But there are a few things that I’ll tell you about which hit me the hardest: The formal entrances, one at each end, contain the times 9:01 and 9:03—which mark the time before and after when the bombs went off. Everything you’re about to see and experience is because of the space between those three minutes contained in this space.

I walked in and saw the reflection pool right in front of me and the lawn with chairs to my right. To the left was a building that sat across the street from the bombing site—this is where the museum itself is, now. My knees instantly buckled and I was hit, fiercely, with the awareness that real, true evil was done here even though it doesn’t look like it at all. Three minutes of pure evil. But more than that–from that moment forward, for 22 years: all love. Only love. Powerful love that has done enormous things.

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There’s something about that ground—that space. There’s something holy there. Ryan told me at one point, “I don’t believe in ghosts or spirits or things like that… but there is something here.” There’s something there. Something that demands to be felt.

The lawn houses 168 chairs that represent the lives lost in the terrorist attack. There are nine rows—representing the nine floors of the building to show where each person was when their life was taken. This explains why certain areas of the lawn are more densely populated with chairs than other spots. As we were walking around, I couldn’t help but see this one little girl, sitting on the grass among the chairs. Surely she didn’t really understand what was done here, right? Surely she didn’t know. All I could think when I looked at her sitting there was, “it could have been you.” So many children were lost in the bombing. I wanted to run to her and beg her not to sit right there because it was just too real for me to deal with. But I snapped a photo to keep because it’s important to see this as something real. To remember that these were real people with lives and parents and babies and pets and jobs and friends who loved them fiercely.

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Walking around the back of the lawn, I was wondering why they’d surround this beautiful space with such a jankey wall with busted concrete and rusted iron poking through it. And it all came to me so slowly but I realized—my God. I’m in the basement right now. I’m standing in the building that was destroyed. I’m standing here among all that debris that I saw on TV when I was a kid. I’m standing here where all these people died. I’m standing here where heroes were born. I have the opportunity to stand here because we don’t pretend this shit doesn’t happen—we don’t turn away from it. I’m standing here in this space that other people cleaned out and made beautiful so that I’ll stand up when this happens again.

What am I going to do when this happens again?

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We walked into the museum and it follows a very specific flow. You start on the top floor and the first exhibits you see are about how this is a day like any other day. It talks about the weather and the stock prices and the morning news that day. You learn about how there have been a resurgence in hate groups in the 90’s. And at the end of the first exhibit, you find yourself watching a TV—a group of people are being interviewed about some trial they’re about to have? It’s supposed to start at 9:00 am. And at 9:00 am, a door opens and you go inside. You’re witnessing this trial take place. You hear an actual recording of this actual trial that was going on at 9:00 am on April 19, 1995. This recording that picked up the sound of the blast across the street. I knew the sound of the blast was coming but I was not prepared for the volume or the clarity of this tape recording… It was so loud. It was not normal.

From that point on, the museum follows a very thorough plan. The doors of the trial room open and you find yourself in the next exhibit that focuses on the destruction. You hear the sound of sirens and helicopters. You see debris everywhere. It feels like you’re in it. It is very overwhelming. My heart was racing but I forced myself to stay and look at what was in front of me. This was difficult for me to bear witness to but over twenty years ago this—and so much more—was the reality that so many people were living in. This first exhibit featured real-life everyday things that were found in the rubble. I was struck most by the day planner that was found. It belonged to Terry Smith Rees who died in the attack. Maybe it’s because I hold so tightly to my day-planner? I just felt such a kinship with that person. Over and over and over again, in my mind, played “there but by the grace of God go I.”

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This exhibit led to another exhibit that featured interviews with survivors—talking about what it was like to be stuck and what it was like to be found. Talking about what their friends were like. I was overwhelmed when I saw a display of a woman’s dress. It had the tiniest rip in it—belonging to a woman who was in the middle of a meeting when her colleges across the table “just disappeared.” She made it out—just sitting at the other end of the meeting table, though I believe that she was stuck for a while in the collapse. I’ve thought about what that must have been like every day since our visit.

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Just when I thought I couldn’t take any more destruction, the sky opened up and you get to focus on hope. Next up is a section all about how the news anchors were covering it—what information they were given, what everyone assumed, what they were wrong about and generally how they felt about it.
There’s a section all about the rescue efforts—how they had to brace the building so that they could go in and recover but they didn’t want the building to keep falling. I remember seeing one sign that talked about how the hospitals all around were prepped for a mass incoming of survivors but it was actually slow-going to get to them. There was so much work that went into getting everyone out and accounted for.

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Throughout each exhibit, there are computers off to the side where you can learn more about the people involved in each exhibit. At first you can learn more about each individual victim. Further on, there are computers where you can learn about the survivors. Up ahead, you can learn about the rescue teams. It was an excellent opportunity for people who just wanted to know a little bit more.
The next floor dealt a bit with Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. Even though I couldn’t stop wondering why–I didn’t care to spend too much time thinking about these people so I didn’t spend a lot of time here. They do have McVeigh’s get-away car on display, though. Complete without a license plate. He was arrested in the first place because he was driving a car with no tag. There’s a part of me that was satisfied that a man who put so much time, thought and energy into something like this got picked up on something so minor. I’m sure it was an intentional choice on his part but he lost that bet.

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But my most favorite part of the whole museum was at the very end. A room filled with photos of those lost in the bombing. Over the speaker—their names are being read. All day long, their names are read–their faces are seen. They’re not forgotten and they’re not lost in vain. They’re here in this hall and living in the strength and determination that we waked out of there with.

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And as you leave the museum, you’re confronted with these words, again:

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Go in peace and in the strength to run in the direction of the crumbling buildings.

XOXO, Lib

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What to Do, See, and Eat in Oklahoma City

We didn’t give each other gifts this Christmas, promising that we’ll take a road trip soon instead. Well, “soon” turned into a few months later but we finally made good on our promise to one another. When I would tell people that we were using our quick vacation to visit Oklahoma City, most people said something along the lines of, “why, do you like have family there or something?” or “are there, like, things to do there?”

Answers: No and of course! There are things to do anywhere. Just ask the Google machine!
We decided on OKC because we wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t more than 4 hours away and we wanted somewhere that neither of us had ever spent too much time before. Usually if we want to take a vacation trip anywhere, we settle on Kansas City. Kansas City is incredible–possibly my favorite city in the land–but we were hankering for some newness. So, Oklahoma it is!

After almost no deliberation, we decided that we wanted to go to the botanical garden that I’d found on Instagram. We also really wanted to see the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum, too. I’ll dedicate a whole post to what we experienced there. But in this post I’ll let you know about a few places that we ate and a few places that we visited. My hope is that after reading this post, you’ll be tempted to visit a new city, too. Or maybe you’ll even be inspired to visit OKC! I hope you do. It was full of so much color and beauty.


Places to stay
We stayed in a very cool Airbnb. The apartment that we stayed in was really gorgeous. It was above a garage in someone’s back yard in a lovely old neighborhood in town. All the surrounding houses were huge and beautiful and colorful. Big trees in the front yard, massive porches perfect for swings and lemonade–the kind of place that makes me yearn for a lottery win. Airbnb is usually our go-to route for lodging–though we do love a hotel stay, too. What I love about Airbnb is that it’s generally quite affordable–I like that we’re putting money into the pockets of regular people, and we usually stay in places that have full kitchens so that we don’t necessarily have to go out for every meal. As soon as we got to town, Ryan got sick. Fevers and chills and a lack of appetite. I was grateful that we were in an apartment instead of a hotel room so that there was space for him to sleep while I read or watched TV and I could make myself a dinner of steamed veggies and cheese while he sat on the couch drinking his TheraFlu. (If you have never used Airbnb before but want to give it a try, use any of the “Airbnb” links in this paragraph and you’ll go to my referral page where you’ll get $40 off your first booking)

I also dreamed about this apartment and this hotel, too.

Places to eat
Breakfast: Kitchen No. 324 was dreamy! So beautiful. From the minute that we walked in, as they took us to our table, I was overwhelmed (in the best way) at how they let you see everything. Everything is bright white and clean with few benches clad in a deep, gorgeous forest green–a statement piece of furniture for sure.  The menu is inventive but approachable. I ordered the Fried Green Tomatoes Eggs Benedict with a latte. Ryan ordered an open-faced breakfast sandwich. I tried everything–so good. I wanted to bring home one of their gorgeous pastries but by the end of breakfast, I was too stuffed to even think about a kolache.

Other places I wanted to try: Hatch OKC and Waffle Champion.

Lunch: We went to this gourmet hot dog place called, wait for it… Mutts. Look, this wasn’t a place that I had researched and found far in advance or anything–all those places were full and we were hangry and tired of looking for parking. So Ryan just pulled this up on Google maps and I was like, “take me anywhere, I don’t care.” But… dude… this was the greatest choice. And it wasn’t far from our apartment at all! I definitely toyed with the idea of maybe just eating here for every meal. Ryan ordered the Windy City Dog and I got something called Hogs Gone Wild. Now, ordinarily I would never order something with a name like that but this dog had all of the things that ring my bell: spinach, pesto, cherry cream cheese? I know–it sounds crazy right? It was made on a wild boar sausage and topped with grilled onions. It! Was! So! Good!

Other places I wanted to try: The Mule and Stella.

Dinner: Oak and Ore (check out that website because my pics don’t do it a bit of justice). This was the first place we went to once we got into town and it got me so excited about what was ahead of us. This place is cool. It’s got a super industrial feel with the typical reclaimed wood, steel beams, and exposed brick. But what sets this place apart is the super long bar featuring thirty six beers on tap. The beers are listed on chalkboard signage hung on the subway tile behind the bar. It’s all very chic and clean. One of the most interesting parts of this bar, to me, was the clientele. You’ve got dude bros wearing backwards ball caps drinking pineapple hard cider next to sophisticated grandpas wearing sweater vests and drinking 16 year old single malt scotch. Everyone fits in here. I had the pork loin and succotash. It was quite yummy and the leftovers held up, too.

Other places I wanted to try: Goro Ramen and The Drake.

Places to visit
Oklahoma City Memorial National Monument: We went here but, like I said, I’m going to write more on it later since it was so much more huge in my heart and mind than I ever expected.

Myriad Botanical Gardens: Even though Ryan wasn’t feeling well, he insisted that we go sightseeing anyway. And this was such a great, low-key treat! It’s smack dab in the middle of the city. There are skyscrapers all around you but you’re standing here feeding ducks and looking at waterfalls. Obviously since we were here in February, there wasn’t that much to see on the main, outdoor grounds but you can tell that in the spring and summer and probably even in the fall, this space is gorgeous. The first thing that I loved about this place is that there’s so much to see and take in before you pay a dime. You can come here and spend a lot of time without spending any money at all. It’s just a gorgeous, soothing space. But if you want to go inside it’s $7 for adults. Which, if you ask me, isn’t that bad at all. Especially since you’re walking into… how do I explain this… So, it’s a greenhouse and the building itself is long and cylindrical and it’s a bridge that crosses a river. In the middle of a city. At one end of the greenhouse it’s all jungle plants and humid. At the other end of the exact same space, it’s dry and there are dessert plants–cacti and enormous agave. This space was incredible. There’s even another bridge inside so that you can see the whole place from up above. It wasn’t *great* for this girl who is terribly afraid of heights but at least the bridge didn’t wobble or anything.

Other places I wanted to check out Museum of Osteology and the Oklahoma City Zoo.

In the end, our trip was incredible. It was so much fun and affordable and I’m so glad that we went. More people should check out what Oklahoma City has to offer! We’ll definitely go back.

Have you ever gone somewhere that was magically more delightful than you could have imagined?

XOXO, Lib