Thu. Apr 14, 2005
Wednesday was a rather odd day for me. Eric Rudolph returned to Atlanta to plead guilty to three bombings in this city in 1996 and 1997. When I first heard he was coming, a part of me thought of going down to the Richard B. Russell Federal Building, where the plea would be made. But I quickly realized that wasn’t what I needed to do Wednesday.
It’s difficult for me to explain. The other day I wrote that “from the day it happened, this has been like a dark place in my heart.” Those words just flowed off my fingertips without much deliberation, but I couldn’t have crafted a more accurate phrase if I’d worked it all day. It doesn’t explain anything, but it says everything. And today the darkness spoke to me. Made me leave home.
Let me try explaining it this way, though I know it is somewhat comparing apples and oranges. But just for a second, imagine you are a New Yorker. Imagine if Osama bin Laden was captured alive, and was brought to America for trial. Imagine that he eventually entered into a plea bargain to limit his sentence in exchange for logistical material planned for future attacks.
Imagine what your New Yorker’s heart would say. Would it feel like … justice? Or being sold out? Or simply an undesired outcome to be accepted in the name of some Greater Good?
I know, apples and oranges. Four bombs that killed two people and wounded more than 120 others does not compare to three massive attacks that destroyed two skyscrapers and killed 3,000. Perhaps. However, both men hated the US government on the basis of their religion, and killed Americans in the name of their God. It seems to me the differences in their acts are quantitative, but their intent was in many ways the same. At the very least, it is difficult for me to parse the judicial difference.
And as if that weren’t enough, I must admit to some additional contributory bias. I’ve been a hardcore fan of the Olympics since I first recall seeing them on TV at the age of 10 in 1968. When they came to my home town in 1996, you can imagine my bliss. It’s well documented (not only that, but how many blogs have an entire Olympics category?). You can therefore imagine my anger at that time towards what I called the “Cowardly Scum” who’d planted the bomb. And I wasn’t alone, as tens of thousands of us defiantly took back the park days after the bombing.
In downtown Atlanta, that “cowardly scum” pleaded guilty in court Wednesday, but that’s not where I went. I needed to go to Centennial Park. I needed it.
Centennial Park has changed a lot over the past nine years. After the Games, it was refurbished to be a more permanent city park, and the wide expanse of grass that faced the band stage is gone. The small knoll where the bomb was placed is now about where the waterfall and rocks are in the photo at left. In the foreground is a statue called “Tribute,” which was donated by the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), a group that was “founded July 26, 1922, in Atlanta, Georgia, by visionary Americans of Greek descent.”
Almost exactly 74 years later, at 1am in the early morning hours of July 27th, 1996, 13 year old Fallon Hawthorne was taking a picture of her mother in front of that statue (the opposite of the side pictured above), when Eric Rudolph’s 40 pound backpack bomb went off. It was packed with masonry nails, some of which tore into the statue, as pictured at left.
Some of them tore through Alice Hawthorne, killing her, and leaving Fallon to grow up without her mother. “I think about her every day, I look in the mirror [and] I see her every morning, our resemblance is striking if anyone has seen us, [...] The things we look forward to as a teenager, the prom, your mother dressing you, your 1st date, her advice things like that, I never got to experience with her.”
And I realized I went to the park today not only for myself, in some attempt to create closure, but for her, and her departed mother. And the 118 other people whose blood was spilled by Rudolph that night.
And I realized that the fact my brain has been so filled with him lately due to his presence in the news simply makes me feel unclean. I needed to focus on the true toll of this, both in others and apparently somewhere within me, not some orange-suited scum winking his way through a plea bargain with the government he hates. I’ve read through his “statement,” and I’ll get into that tomorrow. Or the next day. If I feel like it.
But not today.