I don’t feel like being funny today. I know. Funny is in my nature. My default response.
But not today. Today I feel like crying.
Because my nature is Okie. I spent 26 of my formative years in the state. Oklahoma City is my home. It’s where I learned to ride a bike, kiss a girl, and properly eat a lamb fry (don’t ask). It’s also the place where I learned to look a man in the eye when shaking hands, to leave things better than you found them, and to offer help to strangers.
Don’t let the Okies fool you. You might mistake the slow, easy drawl in their voices for a lack of intellect. But remember, humility is a requirement for Oklahomans, so they develop their accents accordingly. It’s there to mask the wisdom that lies beneath. Anything else would be too preachy.
This week, I was scheduled to teach a workshop in The Power of Positive Influence to a group of safety professionals at OG&E, the electric utility based out of Oklahoma City. I arrived on Sunday and was greeted by tornado sirens in the parking lot of my hotel. But I wasn’t scared. Growing up, the sirens in my neighborhood were tested every Wednesday at noon. Like clockwork. So, for me, the sound generates the same feelings of nostalgia that seagulls and crashing waves might bring to someone who grew up near the beach.
But the sirens weren't a test. On Monday morning, a couple of the workshop participants were no-shows. They had been called to the town of Shawnee that had been hit by a tornado the night before. Their job was to keep the community safe from downed power lines and restore service.
On Monday afternoon, the tornado sirens sounded again. The remaining participants – all safety guys – made sure we knew where to go in the event we were directly in the storm’s path. Luckily, we were over ten miles away.
By 3:30, they had all heard of the destruction in Moore, and requested an early stop to our class. On the way out the door, they were thanking me for my time, and apologizing in advance.
“We might be up all night helping get the downed lines out of the way for rescue vehicles and such. So, no offense if we look a little sleepy tomorrow, or come in late. We promise it’s nothing personal.”
Guys like this already have a Master’s degree in positive influence. We cancelled the rest of the week’s classes.
By now, you all know what happened. The town of Moore, Oklahoma is devastated. The rest of us watch and weep. We cry for the families who lost their homes. We ache for the parents who lost children. And we look for ways to help (here are some). It would be criminal to do nothing. Like sitting next to a guy having a heart attack at Applebee’s and asking him if he was going to eat the rest of his chicken fingers.
And I’m still here on the red dirt soil of Oklahoma for a few more hours, just a stone’s throw away. But my hands are tied. It appear that Oklahomans are too good at helping. Local news stations are begging people to stay away from the area. They have been inundated with volunteers. So the volunteers bring supplies. With lines stretching out on the highway past midnight. Cars loaded with shovels and gloves. Pickup trucks filled with diapers and stuffed animals.
This kind of generosity breeds strength and character. Like my grade school buddy Trevor, now a state trooper for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, who logged a 19-hour shift. All he asks in return for his service is that the next time you see a cop or a firefighter, you give ‘em a hug.
And then there’s Jay, a high school classmate, who just last week posted a photo of his fun new landscape lighting project.
And now finds a whole new landscape.
* Jay's house yesterday afternoon
Hard to believe. The strength required to come back from this is more than I can imagine. But I know he will. He’s an Okie after all. I only hope that when I bumped into Jay and Trevor walking through the halls of Yukon High School, that some of their strength rubbed off on me. It’s one thing to go through a year and not buy any stuff. It’s an altogether different thing to save a life or rebuild one.
Humility can humble you like that.
At times like these we think of the important things in life. Friends. Faith. Family. We tell people we love them. We hold our wives a bit closer. We hug our kids a little more often. It’s good for the soul and it deepens relationship.
At the same time, it can be sad. I blush at how many times I have used tragedies like a metaphorical Post-It note. An outward reminder to focus on what’s important. Part of a to-do list. And the problem is this: that Post-It note is not a part of me. It’s not my default response. It’s something I keep on a shelf until the next tragedy comes along.
And it’s sad.
So today, my prayer is for Oklahoma. May wounds be healed and hope restored. May those who have been affected see God in the face of strangers and helpers.
And my prayer is also for all of us. May we all look to make our lives a constant reminder of what’s important. To sift through the rubble of the day-to-day and find that shining point of light that sustains us all.
Because, whether Okie or not…
It’s in our nature.
(image below courtesy of Nancy Dodd Poole whose niece and nephew assisted with yesterday’s clean up efforts. It reads, "The most important things in life aren't things.")