“Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain…”
Normally the wind sweeps out here. Occasionally it wafts, or meanders. Almost never is it still. This is especially true along the Indian Meridian which bisects the state into Range East and Range West. The wind is so pervasive throughout this region that the story goes that people are so used to leaning into the wind that one day when it did not blow everyone fell down.
But sometimes the wind gets angry. Last Monday it got very angry. Perhaps as angry as it has even been. And it went on an out-of-control, blind mad, raging stampede right through the Sergeant Major’s hometown of Moore. When it finished, 24 people were dead, thousands of homes were destroyed or damaged, and two elementary schools were wiped out. The Sergeant Major’s elementary school was one of them. Seven children died there.
By the next morning the area had been hit again with another tornado. This one was made up of first responders, law enforcement officials, good Samaritans, politicians, and, of course, the media. Most came to do good, a few just to watch, and a few more to prey on the raw emotions of the townspeople. It was the outsiders though, even the ones who had come to do good, who most often asked the question, “You guys know the wind gets very angry out here. Why do you stay?”
I’ve been thinking about that a lot, and so too have many of my fellow Oklahomans. We like to tell people it’s because we’re different. We don’t “put on airs”. To meet us is to know us. Our Governor even told one journalist, that “if you’re going to have a tragedy in your life you want it to be in Oklahoma”. We care about our families, our communities, and our state. And all of that is true I think, but I wonder why. Other people have families, communities, and states too. What is it about Oklahoma?
Perhaps it’s because we’re still somewhat new. We’ve only been a state a little over a hundred years. The shine hasn’t completely worn off yet. That’s a part of it, but I suspect there’s something more. Something we don’t think of very often, if at all.
Oklahoma started from nothing. Nobody wanted this particular piece of ground. It was considered “uninhabitable”. The Indians didn’t want it. They were forced out here at gunpoint by soldiers. Settlers didn’t want it. They passed right by it on their way West. It was populated only after there was absolutely nowhere else to go…and mostly by people no one else wanted living next door to them.
So the people who made it here were tough. People that the venerable New York Times once called “ragtag”. A disparate conglomeration of cowboys, Indians, farmers, freed slaves, oil field workers, and other groups of migrants who settled down and told themselves, “This is it. We make it here or we don’t make it”. So they got busy trying to make it. There just wasn’t time to do anything else. They taught their kids and grandkids that, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. And so we do. Somehow we’ve managed not to lose that.
Moore is a town chock full of people who simply got busy trying to make it. I know them. As I said, the Sergeant Major grew up there. And if there is anyone I know in the world that pushed all the excuses aside and simply got busy trying to make it, it’s her. Married at 19. Living in a foreign country with a new born and an often absent husband at 20. Three kids at 25. College graduate at 40. Horse breeder, trainer, homemaker, artist, gardener, builder, engineer, and all-purpose handyman today. No, she doesn’t know Toby Keith, but she knows the work ethic. And she reminds our grandson regularly that, “Grandma’s house is a ‘No Whine Zone’”.
But it’s an outsider turned insider who might have summed it up best. Sam Presti, General Manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder, was born and raised in Massachusetts. Since he brought the Thunder here five years ago, he’s seen first-hand what Oklahomans can do when they put their minds to it. He makes every new Thunder player visit the Oklahoma City Memorial Museum before they report to work. He says he wants them to understand the kind of people who live here, the kind of people they’ll be playing for. In the aftermath of the tornado, he and several of the Thunder players toured the destruction. They went to encourage, but returned having been themselves encouraged. Sam said, “It’s clear that the resolve, the resiliency and the faith of the people that have had to endure this is infinitely stronger than that of what has taken place.” And then he said of his recently adopted home, “There’s a sense of purpose that exists in Oklahoma that makes all of us proud to call it home”. He’s even got a name for it. He calls it, “the Oklahoma Standard”.
No, we’re not leaving. Moore will rebuild, albeit with more storm shelters for next time. And yes, we all know, there will be a next time. And a next time after that too. But we’ll still be here, staying busy trying to make it. After all, we have a Standard to uphold.
"And when we say Yeeow! Ayipioeeay!
We’re only sayin’ you’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma!