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It was in June of 1996, as I was moving from New Mexico to North Carolina, that I stopped by the site of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, OK. There was no building there anymore. The memorial hadn’t been built yet. It was just a field covered in grass and weeds surrounded by a chain link fence. It was a quiet and drizzly morning, grey and sad, which seemed appropriate. There were no other people around. No crowds anymore. No mourners.

The fence was completely covered in hand written notes. Covered with small and large stuffed animals. With ribbons. With every sort of memorial token you can imagine. Boots. Sneakers. Pairs and singles. Wilted flowers.

But there was one memorial tacked to the fence that day that I will never forget.

There was a small piece of wood, with a pair of worn leather gloves attached to it. The gloves had holes in them. They were burned and torn and scarred. They were attached to the board with two simple wood-screws driven through them into the wood. Someone had used a woodburning tool to hand-inscribe a message on the board. It wasn’t written in fancy script. It looked like it was written with an unsteady hand. I cried as I read it.

I came and I dug until my hands bled. I am sorry, but I couldn’t save you all.

Those were the words of a volunteer rescuer who had been there that day, and apparently for days afterwards. I will never forget those words. Those words summed up the tragedy that was wrought by Timothy McVeigh more than anything for me.

And yet we seem to have learned so little from that day. Here we are, 15 years later, and the Tea Party protesters are marching on Washington carrying guns. Pastor Stan Craig of the Choice Hills Baptist Church declared that he was prepared to “suit up, get my gun, go to Washington, and do what they trained me to do.” Which sounds an awful lot to me like he is threatening to do just what Tim McVeigh did in Oklahoma 15 years ago.

This is not what this nation is about. We do not threaten to kill people, or blow things up, or commit other acts of senseless violence just because we lost an election. Just because our side doesn’t get its way this year. We are supposed to be a modern, civilized country.

In a modern, civilized country run by adults, we do not have grown men cry because they “dug until my hands bled.” We do not have people who are “sorry, but I couldn’t save you all.”

The Tea Party is now trying to call today (the anniversary of the bombing in Oklahoma) “Patriot Day.” As if Timothy McVeigh was a patriot. As if they, the Tea Party, are patriots. He wasn’t. They aren’t. He was a coward. They are cowards. They are small people without the basic understanding of what makes our society function.