Baylee’s tree is blooming.
It’s early, but the delicate, white buds of the Bradford Pear tree in my front yard are peeking out. It surprises me every Spring. I’ll walk outside to get the newspaper or mail, the buds will catch my eye and I’ll think, “Welcome back, Baylee!” ?
I know Baylee the way most people do – through a photograph. Baylee Almon was the limp baby with tiny, white socks, carried by a firefighter away from the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. She was one year and one day old when she died.
I remember that night. I was hundreds of miles away, safe in Ohio. But it still, the news had thrown me over a cliff. I remember crawling into bed feeling sick and scared. It was the first time in my life I understood evil truly existed.
I realize, of course, evil has always existed. But I’d never noticed. Or if I had, it’d been easy enough to turn away. I’d a led a charmed life. I know it wasn’t the world that changed. It was me. I was a young mom with babies of my own, and I’d carried their bodies – limp with sleep – to their warm beds. My boys’ tears would wake me up. Baylee’s mom and the mothers of the other eighteen children killed would wake up with only their own tears.
Feeling desperate to do something, I made a vow. I promised myself I’d plant a tree in the yard of every house I lived in. In honor of Baylee.
I chose a Bradford Pear because they’re the ones who call back Spring. I planted the sapling alone because I was too embarrassed to tell anyone. I didn’t know Baylee or her family. Who was I have my own, private memorial?
I watered that tree every day. Like my kids, it grew like crazy and made me smile. Am I still embarrassed to share the story of my Bradford Pear? Not really. Life’s hard. Not all the time. But still. There’s war. There’s disease. Children go hungry. Rivers run over. Bad things happen. And whether or not they happen to us, they happen to us because we are together on this earth. The world would be a terrible place only if we didn’t feel the ache of someone else’s heartbreak.
I read somewhere Baylee’s mom married and had two more children. I say, good for her. But I know she is keenly aware her firstborn would have turned 14 this year. I also know I’ll remember Baylee, too. After all, she taught me an important lesson. And now I know that if we’re just patient, hope – like Spring – always comes back around.