It was Wednesday 19 April 1995 at 9:02 A.M. I was a student at Oklahoma Christian University, but on this day my instructors were life, death, and tragedy. My classroom was the Murrah Federal Building down the road. It had just been blown to bits. Of the 168 people lost, 19 were children. Three preborn children were not counted in the official tally.
Following the bombing, Oklahoma Christian planned a memorial service during chapel time. Immediately after chapel the bells were to toll 168 times while the whole community sat in silence in the forum.
I missed chapel that day because I was sitting in the office of my dear friend and professor Dr. Elmo Hall discussing philosophy. While I didn’t mind missing chapel, I was somehow drawn to the poetic idea of tolling bells and was determined to be in the forum to count each and every one.
Concluding a philosophical conversation with any college professor, let alone the venerable Dr. Hall, is no easy task. So, rather than force an awkward end, I invited Dr. Hall to stroll with me down to the forum to remember the 168.
“No. I’m not going,” was his flat reply.
So flat, in fact, that I knew there must be more to the story. “Why not?” I asked.
He began calmly, “It’s a matter of principle. My daughter Shari was six when she died. It was a terrible disease, and she suffered.” He paused, then became more passionate. “She died alone. No newspaper reporter came to my house to interview us. No one called her a martyr. No one rang any bells. What is so special about these 19 children that they deserve all of this?”
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t know you had had a daughter.”
“No, you didn’t,” he concluded without looking up.
I was in the forum, but I couldn’t count the tolls. Somehow I felt that I had been put in my place. All I could think about was Elmo’s daughter. Why are some deaths more important than others?
Twenty-five years later I still struggle with this question. Over 3,000 died in the attack on New York City. As a nation we responded with an ocean of tears, billions of dollars in spending, and a “War on Terror.” What about the 3,000 preborn who die EVERY DAY in this country? Where is the justice for them?
We react to death differently depending on our relationship to those who died, how many died, and how atrocious the manner of death. In this sense death is relative . . . but is death relative for God when not even a sparrow falls without his knowing?
Our culture does not accept the shedding of innocent blood; however it only acknowledges the blood it sees. The silent, unseen victims of abortion die daily without a single tolling bell, a bell that could not acknowledge each life lost even if it tolled every minute, every hour, every day. To avoid atrocities such as abortion, we must toll the bell and guard against becoming deaf to the sound. Perhaps John Donne said it best:
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” (Meditation 17)