Thursday I’m headed for the first big conference of the year (for me) in Oklahoma City. The first time I attended this conference held by Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc., was in 1995, the year of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. Many of us discussed whether we ought to go or not. After all, this was the first terrorist attack on U.S. soil, or so said CNN. Perhaps the terrorists were lying in wait to strike again in the Heartland of our country.
Then one of the most published members of our writers group, and the only one who had previously attended OWFI said, “That might be, but I doubt that planting a bomb where writers are gathered would put across the point these @*&%$ are trying to make. Let’s go and show them how strong Americans can be.”
We’d heard it was a great conference, many New York editors and agents would be there, as well as best selling authors. The workshops advertised were many and the subjects interesting. And so we gathered together in enough vehicles to transport the eight or nine of us who wanted to attend.
Once we were all settled in our rooms, those of us on the side of the Embassy Suites which faced the city, discovered we could see the damaged nine-story building from our balconies. It was quite sobering. We’d gathered to network, visit with other authors, learn more about our craft and generally have a good time, and out there within visual distance, the scattered rubble of a terrifying attack on our way of life.
It was hard to forget that 168 people had died nearby, that had we been here on April 19, we would’ve heard the blast, felt it in the soles of our feet and in our hearts. Been traumatized by such an event. At the opening ceremonies of the conference, a few minutes of silence were observed for those who had been killed.
Then, as resilient human beings, we continued with our business. But all of us sensed that life in this country might never be quite the same. That we were living during a time that could well mark a change in the way we felt about our country. It was most certainly a time to stand up and be counted. To wave the American flag and renew our patriotism.
Other tragedies have occurred in the 13 years since the Oklahoma City bombing. But with each event we, as people and as a country, have proven our strength to endure. As writers, it’s our duty to support patriotism and those who would defend our way of life, even when we might not like the way things are going for us at the moment. Our duty to speak out for what is right and good and enduring, and never back down.
Oddly, I don’t recall who conducted those workshops, what editors and agents might have been there, or what in particular I learned about my craft. I do remember vividly skirting the remnants of the Murrah building that evening to go to supper at the Brickyard. And the friends I made that year remain in my mind and heart as well. Many of them I continue to see once a year, when several of us drive to Oklahoma City for this conference that has become a must. Each time we drive by the monument that now stands where the bombs once exploded, we again pay homage to those who died on that dreadful, dark day in our history. None of us will forget the day that forever changed the way Americans think about our way of life and how fragile a thing Freedom can be. And how it doesn’t come without consequences and loss of life.