This weekend I was in Oklahoma City for Time Out for Women.
I’ve never been to Oklahoma, nor do I know anyone who lives there, and I abashedly confess that visiting the Memorial was parenthetical, a quick detour en route to the hotel. But the moment Shawni and I crossed the threshold, our lighthearted conversation became hushed, even reverent. I had, unwittingly stumbled upon a very sacred place.
The Memorial, which honors those who lost their lives in the tragic bombing on April 19, 1995, includes a large reflecting pool; its perimeter traces that of the Murrah Building, what was once N.W. Fifth Street. At the far end, and to the left of the pool, stands the Survivor Tree, an American Elm, that miraculously survived the blast. I found myself most drawn to the 168 ladder-backed chairs, one for each person who died, large ones for the adults and miniature chairs for the children. The words of grief-stricken Marius from Les Miserables came to mind, “Empty chairs and empty tables where my friends will meet no more.”
Courtesy Macy Robison Photography
As I flew home this morning (having fallen in love with Oklahoma), this image of the chairs lingered.
Chairs are such a quotidian part of our surroundings. We think of them in terms of their functionality – somewhere to sit – to plunk down our backpacks, purses, briefcases. Perhaps that's why they are such a fitting marker: what was ordinary is now an extra-ordinary signifier that each of these people continues to have a place.
I couldn't help but think too, that while catastrophes will continue to strike, there is at least one calamity that is avoidable: the loss of life that occurs when you and I fail to claim our place in the world, leaving our chair empty. Some might call this hyperbole. But, forfeiting our place is, to me, a tragedy of individual proportion.
“I’m too busy to sit down,” we say, scurrying distractedly past our who we are, “I’ll sit later.” Or “Surely there must be a fancier chair. This isn’t what I intended for my life”, we lament, “I’ll wait for a better one.” Or, “I can’t sit in that chair,” as if we we're a pretender to a throne, though it's legitimately ours, “better to stand aside for someone more deserving.”
After being in Oklahoma, and bearing witness to this devastating loss, chairs are no longer just chairs. My few minutes at the Memorial changed me; they have compelled me to work even harder to become the chair of my life.
Have you ever stumbled upon a sacred place? Where was it?
Can you think of any others reasons, besides the three that I've mentioned, why we don't claim our life – as it is?
The next time you sit in a chair, will you consider how you have already pulled up a seat to your self?