Oklahoma Rising

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I can't really begin to put into words the events and emotions of the last 48 hours.  Homesick doesn't really even come close.  When it comes to storm season in Oklahoma, there is a fine line between excitement and heartbreak.  That line, as it turns out, is a 16-minute warning window and an EF5 tornado.

You see, your average tornado-chasing day in Central Oklahoma can be kind of fun.  Typically, we know the day's storm potential.  Storms tend to develop on the plains and slowly move into the city.  We have time to prepare, take our precautions, and do what we do best.  Ride out the storm.  Okies are the world's best amateur meteorologists.  An Oklahoman knows significantly more about weather than some East Coast weather personalities on my local news.  By storm time, we're flipping channels, laughing at the weather guy's bedazzled tie, and posting minute-by-minute updates to our social media accounts.  Some of us Okies may even enjoy the occasional "tornado party."  No tornado party is complete without the Gary England game (our millionaire meteorologist with a cameo in Twister).  With juice or coffee, of course.  We are always careful about tornado days, but it's usually not the end of the world.  When things get a bit scary, we head to the hospital down the street for stronger shelter and then go out for dinner after the storm passes.  We may or may not stand at the windows and watch the storm roll in until the very last minute.   The Chief never cooks on tornado nights.  There's just too much excitement in the air.

But when it's bad, it's worse than bad.  Unimaginable.  Heartbreaking.

And it all changes in an instant.

A two-mile wide tornado on the ground for over an hour is absolutely every Okie's worst nightmare.

I could never begin to list all of the wonderful stories, gestures, and support for my state in the last two days.  From colleges that re-opened empty residence hall rooms for newly homeless families to major companies that made major donations, the response was immediate.  Oklahoma is good in good times, but Oklahoma shows its soul in crisis.  Our teachers pray in public schools when that's the only hope of safety and teach tiny little people to sing "You Are My Sunshine" when the all-too familiar freight train sound hovers overhead.  My church, like so many others, responded immediately with volunteers, donations, and prayers for out city.  That, and $1.2 million dollars toward tornado relief.  Our local sports heros prove that heroism isn't about winning a game. Just following God's nudge to help...

It's not about money or who donated what amount or making a big gesture.  It's just about family.  And Oklahoma is family.  And all we know for sure is that God answers prayers.  How could you possibly think otherwise, when a reported death toll of 91 is suddenly lowered to 24?  "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted" (Psalm 34:18).

In the last couple of days, a lot of New Yorkers asked me a lot of questions about life with tornadoes.  Why would someone live in that area?  Why rebuild if you've lost a home before?  Why don't you all have basements and storm shelters?  Why were kids in school if the weather was going to be so bad?  Why?  Why?  Why?

[spoiler alert for this weekend's post]

Mostly, people want to know why my very-near-future plans involve a not-so-small move to tornado alley.  But the thing is, it's home.  So where else would I go?  It's not our first time to stare down a storm and it certainly won't be our last.

"Guts and grace and mercy, we have shown them in our turn, when the fields had turned to dust and the skies began to burn. When the storm shook our souls and the mighty buildings fell, through fires and desperation our faith has served us well. I choke back the emotion, I'm an Okie and I'm proud So when you call me Okie, man, you better say it loud. Now we look into the heavens at the eagles climbing free. It's the spirit of our people on the wing, can you see? We're Oklahoma Rising."

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