we visit the graves
of the unknown
Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival Haiku Invitational 2011
Two weeks ago I found myself in Oklahoma City as part of a gathering of travel writers from all over the country. Having been born and raised in Tulsa, I know Oklahoma’s capital city fairly well. (I attended graduate school at the University of Oklahoma in nearby Norman, OK, and several of my relatives still live in the area.) Maybe that’s why it is so hard for me to believe that 16 years ago Oklahoma City was the site of a senseless act of violence that took the lives of 168 people–19 of them children.
I visited the site of the Murrah Federal Building bombing shortly after the national memorial to Oklahoma City’s victims was completed in 2001–just a few months before another city close to my heart endured terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers. But I had never had a chance to visit the museum that the people of Oklahoma City later built alongside their memorial. I had that opportunity this trip, and it was, coming on the heels of 9/11’s tenth anniversary, a poignant reminder not only of the kind of devastation and suffering people are capable of inflicting on each other but also of the strength, resilience and dignity communities like Oklahoma City and New York have shown in the aftermath of terrorism.
I wrote my opening haiku months ago without specifically referencing either Oklahoma or New York. Over the years, there have been many graves that I have visited with the intention of showing respect to those–both known and unknown–who’ve gone before me. Such pilgrimages are, I believe, an important reminder of how fragile life can be . . . and how full of purpose. The first haiku I can remember reading addresses that feeling much better than I can. It is possibly my favorite haiku by my favorite haiku poet, Matsuo Bashō (translated by haijin Jane Reichhold), and even though I already posted it for my All Souls Tribute last October, I think it’s worth repeating . . . and remembering:
the whole family
all with white hair and canes
–Bashō (trans., Jane Reichhold)