James B. Comey
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Oklahoma City Bombing 20th Anniversary Memorial Service
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
April 19, 2015

The Oklahoma Standard: Resilience, Resolve, and Hope

Remarks as delivered

I am honored to be here this morning to represent the people of the FBI.

Twenty years ago today, ordinary folks were going about their lives—dropping kids off before work, running errands, heading to work themselves—doing what ordinary people do on ordinary days. In an instant, this day was transformed into a moment of history. A moment of unspeakable horror … darkness … and loss.

We’ve had these dark and damaging moments in our history before, as individuals, as Americans, and as citizens of the world. Moments that forever alter our lives … moments that change who we are and what we are. And we will have them again.

But it is not the moment that defines us. It is not the act itself that shapes our destiny. It is what comes next.

In the minutes following the attack, the people of Oklahoma City did something the rest of us, watching from afar, found hard to fathom. You ran toward darkness. You ran toward pain. You ran toward danger and destruction.

You ran because these were your friends. You ran because they were your neighbors and your teammates and members of your congregation.

You ran because that is what Oklahomans do for their families, and on this day, these people were family.

You were strong. You were unbending. You were fearless in the face of terrible hatred. You understood, even in the midst of evil, that courage is stronger than fear. Love is stronger than hatred. And hope is stronger than grief.

As Governor Fallin and Governor Keating said, that is the Oklahoma Standard.

Growing up, most of us of a certain age watched Mister Rogers’ show on television called Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Mr. Rogers understood that children have fears—fears that sometimes adults can’t understand.

He once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say: ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

It was true back then, and it is true today. In times of crisis and disaster, we look for the helpers. And we will always, always find people who are helping.

You were those people. You were those helpers. That is the Oklahoma Standard.

Life is a search for understanding—and we often seek to understand, to struggle to understand, why do bad things happen? We may carry a deep and abiding faith in our hearts, but we find unsatisfactory statements like “Well, it was God’s will.”

For me, that is simply not enough to say it’s God’s will. I believe it is inconsistent with any notion of a caring being.

So we struggle in asking why bad things happen. It’s debilitating; it can be paralyzing. It can keep us frozen in a dark moment.

Although we cannot help asking why—struggling with the why—we must instead focus on asking how. How can we move forward? How can we help?

When bad things happen, we must ask ourselves, what comes next? How can we move bravely forward?

It is our obligation not to allow evil hold the field. Not to let the darkness prevail.

The loss of your loved ones—and the lasting impact on this community—opened a hole in your heart that will never close, that will never heal. I’m sure it’s true that smiles come more easily now two decades on, and that memories are softer.

But the sense of loss is the same. The sorrow is the same.

Poet Robert Browning Hamilton wrote about the legacy of loss and sorrow in words I thought might be useful to us today. He wrote this in his poem:

I walked a mile with pleasure
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with sorrow
And never a word said she;
But O the things I learned from her
When sorrow walked with me.

You have learned much from sorrow. You have learned that life is precious and time is short. You have learned what it means to lose someone you love. You have learned courage and compassion and charity.

For 20 years, you have sought the good coming out of the darkness. It is your way of saying “We remember. We will never forget. But we will move bravely forward.”

You stood with the people of New York. You stood with the people of Boston.

You said to them, “We know. We understand. But out of darkness will come a ray of light. Out of darkness will come hope.”

That is the Oklahoma Standard.

It is who and what you are—and you have helped make it the American standard.

* * *

In the evening hours, as the sun sets, the 168 chairs behind us will start to glow. They will glow with the light of the loved ones who were lost.

They will glow with the promise that good will always, always win out over evil. They will glow with the hope that there is more kindness and compassion and love in this world than we can possibly see … and with the realization that, although weeping comes at night, joy will come in the morning.

There is evil in this world. You know that to be true. You have lived that truth.

But know this.

We in the FBI will do all we can—all that we must—to find and stop that evil, so that you never again need to endure such darkness.

We will do all we can to ensure that justice and the rule of law trumps savagery and hatred.

We will do all we can to keep you safe.

That is our standard.

And it is our privilege to serve you, and to be part of your family. Thank you very much.