When you've lived in Oklahoma for your entire life, spring storms are an annual occurrence and rite of passage. You know the storms will come and, from the time you're old enough to understand, you're taught exactly what to do if a tornado approaches. You know where to go in your house (middle room with no exterior walls on the first level) and what to avoid (windows or any other kind of glass, plus anything that could become one of Mother Nature's wind-whipped weapons). You're also taught in school exactly what to do when a tornado comes your way. I went through countless tornado drills during my school days ... just like I'm sure the children in Moore, Okla., did prior to May 20, 2013.
When you've lived in Oklahoma for your entire life, you've seen the sky turn a shade of green that can't be described. The best description I've heard is to think of the ugliest green a bruise on your arm or leg has turned and then picture that in the sky above you in every direction. It's a site you hope you don't ever see. If you do, you need to take cover immediately. I've seen it a couple of times in my life ... just like the people in Moore, Okla., did on May 20, 2013.
When you've lived in Oklahoma for your entire life, you get used to people poking fun at your home state. You get used to people calling you "an Okie" and not meaning it as an endearing term. You get used to the jokes about horse-drawn buggies still crowding the street and everything looking like it's straight out of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. It's part of living in Oklahoma ... and that's OK. Most people who degrade our fair state have never been here or only passed through on their way to somewhere perceived as bigger and better. I always consider the source when I read or hear their words.
Our state has had its share of teasing ... but it's also had its share of tragedies over the last 20 years. The bombing of Oklahoma City's Murrah Federal Building in 1995 and the tragic tornadoes of 1999 that obliterated sections of the state, including Moore, are two that come to mind quickly. However, tragedy seems to find parts of Oklahoma every spring when a family loses their house or their loved ones in the blink of an eye when a twister touches down and then recoils back into the sky.
The tragedy of May 20, 2013, seems almost too much to bear tonight. Seeing the pictures of the devastation in Moore and surrounding communities is heartbreaking. I've been to Moore many, many times. I've watched countless movies at the Warren Theater. I've driven along I-35 between Norman and Oklahoma City so often I could probably do it in my sleep. I've stopped at the Braum's for a shake. I've shopped inside the Wal-Mart. It makes the tragedy seem a little closer to home than the 100 miles that separates my house from Moore.
While the pain is intense right now, the one thing I know about my fellow Okies tonight is this ... there will be a time for grieving and then the rebuilding will begin. I've seen it in downtown Oklahoma City where the horrific bomb that killed 168 Oklahomans went off on April 19, 1995. I've seen it in Moore (twice now, both times after major tornadoes). Okies will dust themselves off, rise to their feet, look around to see what needs to be done, and then do it. And, above all else, they will come out of the tragedy stronger than ever. These characteristics make me very proud to be an Okie ... tonight and every night.
I dare say that today and in the days to come, we're all Okies ... just like we were all New Yorkers after 9/11 and residents of Newtown, Conn., after that unspeakable tragedy. We will all pitch in to help those who need it the most and stand with them when they feel alone. It's not only what we do as Okies ... but as Americans.
I've had friends around the world contact me to see if I'm OK and to see what they can do. It's simple.
1. Send your thoughts and prayers to the people affected by these storms. They are needed.
2. Give what you can to organizations like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army that are on the ground right now in Oklahoma helping put lives back together.
3. Tell the people you love that you love them. May 20, 2013, serves as a reminder that life changes way too fast, especially in the spring in Oklahoma.
Moore will rebuild. More storms will come in the spring. More tornadoes will touch down in Oklahoma. More people will be there to help those affected. It's a rite of passage in my home state and it's a chance to once again be reminded the good qualities that make up not only Okies, but the human race.