If you’re raised in Oklahoma, tornadoes become a character in your life story. Growing up in western Oklahoma, we regularly trekked to the neighbor’s cellar in their backyard – typically in the middle of the night. The dank smell, tight quarters and spider companions didn’t ease your fear that a swirling villian had interrupted your dreams. But we were together.
We also had a “hidey hole” in later years and thankfully didn’t have to visit it often, but the history of the Woodward tornado from 1947 that left 185 dead was a reminder that it had happened before and it could happen again. In springtime Oklahoma, you get birds chirping and sirens blaring. But you’re thankful for those sirens because unlike that storm sixty years ago, when twisters hit today, we have technology on our side – TVs, Internet, texting. In fact, on my 40th birthday last year, a group of girlfriends spent the weekend with me at a lake house in Texas and Woodward was hit that night. (We had the big screen TV on live storm coverage all night.) My best friend from high school was a former reporter and she worked with the metro news station to get sources pulled together from our safe spot in our bunk beds in that lakehouse. We had spent frantic minutes texting our loved ones whose power was out telling them to stay in the cellar. That’s what we do in Oklahoma, stick together.
We’ve got each other’s backs, before and after the storm. That same reporter friend, Tina McGarry, was the one texting me last Sunday when a tornado was on its way to my neighborhood in the suburb. If she hadn’t let me know, my husband and boys could’ve still been at the sno cone stand when it ended up causing damage to the neighborhood to our north. Close call, but that tornado was weak. What happened the next day was surreal, not only because it nearly matched the path of the May 3, 1999 tornado, but because you’re never as emotionally ready as you think you’ll be when the worst happens. My whole body seemed to turn in on itself as I watched the massive tornado on TV bearing down on the southern part of our city. The debris of grief was nationwide. We all hurt for the towns affected. But we grow up learning to “dust yourself off and get back on the horse”. (Sometimes literally.)
So it’s no surprise to we Okies that the relief efforts show us coming out from shelter ready to help each other. We grew up knowing to make the most of each day. The old saying goes, “if you don’t like the weather in Oklahoma, wait a minute.” Storm clouds, blue skies, snowstorms, dust storms, dry spells and tornadoes come with the territory. But thankfully so do really great people with big hearts.
That includes our teachers. We’re not surprised that Newtown teachers protected their students or that our Moore teachers shielded their students with their bodies. What drives them to the profession is a love for teaching, learning and kids. Both of my sisters are teachers. One works in a daycare and the other teaches emotionally disabled kids in a public school. I marvel that teachers do what they do each day and we should thank them with pay raises, respect and our gratitude and support.
Takeaway? Besides how awesome people can be? Time is fleeting, but by staying in the present moment, we get the opportunity to feel grace and gratitude that we get to be here at all. Lift your head up from your phone and see, listen and touch the things around you. Isn’t it a blessing that we get to do this?
That’s what the hard times show us: how we can persevere, how the good times are sweeter and just around the bend.
Dusting off, hoisting ourselves up, headed to where we can help.
My short story and essay anthology, Hope Floats: Stories on Loss and Living On, is free in the Kindle store through May 24th. The promotion was scheduled prior to the storm, but the message of moving on after a loss is definitely closer to home this week for many of us. Now go make the most of your day, your life.