Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the event that’s the subject of my newest nonfiction book, All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing After the Oklahoma City Bombing, illustrated by Nicole Xu and published by Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing.
As with so many days this spring, at the same time I was spending the day in the here and now, I was also aware of where I had planned to be and what I had expected to be doing on that date: attending the Remembrance Ceremony in Oklahoma City, as Jennifer and I did last year. In fact, I was going to be gone most of last week, talking about All of a Sudden and Forever in Dallas, in Norman, in Edmond, and in Oklahoma City.
Instead, I was in Austin, fretting a bit over whether — amid all the commotion and disruption in the life of our nation and our world — anyone would even see this book at a time when I thought it might be a balm to some of those who might encounter it.
And instead of a live, in-person ceremony this year, the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum offered a pre-recorded replacement, which we watched from our sofa as a light rain moved on from the Austin area.
As we have spent time these last few weeks considering what lessons we might learn from COVID-19, I have pondered what lessons we should take from April 19th. This seems more important than ever, as the commemoration of the 25th anniversary is a reminder that this shared experience, so important to our city’s identity, is transitioning from experience to history. As it does so, what can’t be lost are its lessons. In fact, those lessons are what is timeless. Those lessons make this sacred place relevant for decades to come. This is what it means to look back and to simultaneously think forward.
I ask you to consider this morning that this sacred place is a sober reminder that humanity is in fact capable of such evil things, even here in the United States, even here in Oklahoma, and that we all have an obligation to speak up, and to reject words of dehumanization, words that divide us, words that cast others as our enemy. Right now, I hear such words coming out of the mouths of some of the most prominent people in our country, and I see them echoed in daily life by those who know better. We should know how this story ends, but let this place be a reminder. We must have better conversations, we must reject dehumanization, we must love one another.
Yesterday also brought an insightful review of All of a Sudden and Forever from librarian Betsy Bird. I’ll use a little restraint and not quote the entire thing, but I love everything that she has to say about this book — I love that she saw this book — and I’ll close with her words about my own:
A pandemic is not a bombing, nor could it ever be mistaken for one. But if we are talking about events that change us all and that we must collectively heal from (whether literally or figuratively) then this book might be precisely what we need. Because this isn’t just a book about something that happened a quarter of a century ago. It’s a book that is meant to help you learn how to heal and recover and hope in the face of the horrendous. Parents, it’s time to homeschool a little history. The kind we need now more than ever.
Barton is writing a book for children, remember, but in reading this I am reminded of the swath of books that were published in the wake of 9/11. I remember how much I wanted to find a book like this one at that time. Mostly we got inspiring stories about tugboats and roses and tightrope walkers, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of that. Still, there was a part of me that wanted to find a book that told children the truth about how hard it is to live through something like that. Hard, but not hopeless.