One of my favorite Oklahoma stories takes place in Chicago:
I visited Chicago a few times while I was in high school. One time, I was walking around in downtown Chicago, just absorbing the sights and loving life, when I was stopped by a complete stranger. She looked me straight in the eyes and asked, “Are you, by any chance, from Oklahoma?” I was shocked. I wasn’t wearing anything that gave me away, so I was utterly baffled as to how she could know where I was from. After I confirmed that I was from the great state, she said she knew where I was from because I had made eye contact and smiled at her as I passed her on the street. Turns out, she was a native Oklahoman living in Chicago and was craving a bit of that Oklahoma soul. She recognized it as soon as I smiled at her and her Oklahoma craving was fulfilled. We talked for a few minutes and parted ways, smiling at what had just taken place.
I will never forget that moment because it reminded me of what it meant to be from Oklahoma.
Throughout my childhood here in Oklahoma, I learned many important lessons.
I learned in Mrs. Griffith’s first grade class that people don’t like it when you talk about them behind their backs. I learned the value of a harmless prank in Ms. Ross’s third grade class. I learned in Mrs. Wiley’s fourth grade class that people who may seem very different to you probably have the most in common with you (lookin’ at you, Paivy). I learned the Preamble to the U. S. Constitution in Mrs. Keel’s fifth grade class.
But one of the most significant lessons I learned was in Mrs. Neely’s 8th grade class when she introduced us to this quote:
“Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower, we will grieve not…rather find strength in what is left behind.” -William Wordsworth
That is the Oklahoma soul. We are bred to foster strength and muster it from the deepest core of our being when we are suffering. In fact, we value that strength so much that we lend it to our neighbors when we see that they need it more than we do. During tragedy, we join hands and spread our strength across the state like butter on bread. We unite. We pray. We help.
When the tornado hit Moore and thousands of lives were devastated and changed forever, I cried. And cried and cried. I was heartbroken for these people–my people. But as I saw the first responders, policemen, firefighters, immediate volunteers (so many that they had to be turned away), and thousands of people across the state reaching out, I realized that I was crying for a completely different reason. I was crying because of how proud I felt of my state, my Oklahoma family.
I was overwhelmed with love for the people backed up for miles in traffic with cars full of donations hours after the tornado hit. For the ones who were so eager to volunteer from the beginning but had to be turned away. The ones who have been volunteering in any way they can. And I have since been overwhelmed with appreciation for all people across the country and the world wanting to help our Oklahoma families rebuild.
After everything we have been through as Oklahomans, we only continue to grow stronger. We learn to respond more quickly; we know what needs to be done. We wring our hearts of the sadness and our eyes of the tears and face the devastation head-on, prepared to fight.
We will rebuild. It’s what we do.