Bob Humphrey remembers 9:02 a.m. as clear as yesterday.
Mark McKinney knows exactly where he was and what he did April 19, 1995.
So does every Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum employee I talked to over the last two months.
Nearly everyone who was connected to Oklahoma and is of a certain age has those memories.
I was 4 when the bomb exploded at 9:02 that Wednesday morning outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, resulting in the deaths of 168 people.
I recall vague emotions from that day, but no visuals. No specific events.
I'm just one of a generation of young Oklahomans who grew up with the bombing as more historic fact than life-altering experience.
Memorial & Museum quick facts
Source: Oklahoma City National
As I stand at the edge of the memorial's reflecting pool, I'm only capable of conjuring memories of 9/11. I was a fifth-grader then, and it hurts.
It hurts not being able to go back in time and tell my mom everything is going to be OK. It hurts to be aware of this pain that's felt by so many people around me — a pain I'll never know.
When I was assigned to profile some of the collection of people that make up the national memorial community, I didn't know what to expect.
How much would they know? How much would they share?
Rifti Ali, a student from Sri Lanka, visited the memorial in May and was the first person I interviewed for the project. Before that day, he'd never heard of what had happened in Oklahoma City, but he relayed to me stories of growing up in his country, which had been torn apart in recent years by a bloody civil war that claimed as many as 100,000 lives.
Rifti Ali, 24, of Sri Lanka, talks about his experience in Oklahoma and at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. Photo by Aliki Dyer, The Oklahoman
Meeting Ali helped me realize tragedy is a universal part of the human experience.
It is the way we triumph over tragedy that defines us.
Bob Humphrey, the second person I interviewed, worked at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Murrah Building. He retired 19 days before the bombing.
Humphrey estimates he knew — or knew of — nearly 100 of those who died that day.
“I have a lot of stories about these people,” he said. “I could go for hours telling them all.”
Physically, we can be beaten. Our bodies are fragile. But nobody can take away our stories and nobody can take away the deep marks of love we leave behind.
My decision to become a journalist was based on my core belief that our personal stories do more than just pass the time. The moment we forget our stories — the moment we forget about where we came from — is the moment we really have lost everything.
Oklahoma City's rise to national relevance is the Great Plains' worst-kept secret.
My experiences at the national memorial showed me, though, that “rising together” runs deeper than the Thunder.
Togetherness is rooted in the losses we've suffered, but even more in the triumphs that follow.
Keep telling stories.
Never stop listening.