Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Murrah Federal Building bombing and President Monson on compassion

Sixteen years ago today, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was destroyed in an unprecedented act of domestic terrorism.  168 people were killed, including 19 children, and another 850 were injured.  That singular event continues to shape the history and culture of Oklahoma City and its residents.  For information about the bombing, please visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum.  PBS has a compilation of news reports and videos, and there are many other reports on YouTube and elsewhere.

President Thomas S. Monson spoke of the Oklahoma City bombing in an address on compassion at the April 2001 General Conference:
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is a most interesting place. In company with Elders Richard G. Scott, Rex D. Pinegar, and Larry W. Gibbons, I presided at a regional conference there just a short time ago. The facility in which we met was packed with members of the Church and other interested persons. The singing by the choir was heavenly, the spoken word inspiring, and the sweet spirit which prevailed during the conference will long be remembered.

I reflected on my previous visits to this location, the beauty of the state song—“Oklahoma,” from the musical production of Rodgers and Hammerstein—and the wonderful hospitality of the people there.

This community’s spirit of compassionate help was tested in the extreme, however, on April 19, 1995, when a terrorist-planted bomb destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, taking 168 persons to their deaths and injuring countless others.

Following the regional conference in Oklahoma City, I was driven to the entrance of a beautiful and symbolic memorial which graces the area where the Murrah building once stood. It was a dreary, rainy day, which tended to underscore the pain and suffering which had occurred there. The memorial features a 400-foot reflecting pool. On one side of the pool are 168 empty glass and granite chairs in honor of each of the people killed. These are placed, as far as can be determined, where the fallen bodies were found.

On the opposite side of the pool there stands, on a gentle rise of ground, a mature American elm tree—the only nearby tree to survive the destruction. It is appropriately and affectionately named “The Survivor Tree.” In regal splendor it honors those who survived the horrific blast.

My host directed my attention to the inscription above the gate of the memorial:

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.

He then, with tears in his eyes and with a faltering voice, declared, “This community, and all the churches and citizens in it, have been galvanized together. In our grief we have become strong. In our spirit we have become united.”

We concluded that the best word to describe what had taken place was compassion.
President Monson concludes his address:
I return in my thoughts to Oklahoma City. To me, it is beyond mere coincidence that now a temple of the Lord, in all its beauty, stands in that city as a heaven-sent beacon to mark the way to joy here on earth and eternal joy hereafter. Let us remember the words from the Psalms, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”  [Psalms 30:5]
In a very real way, the Master speaks to us: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him.”  [Revelation 3:20]
Let us listen for His knock. Let us open the door of our hearts, that He—the living example of true compassion—may enter, I sincerely pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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