It took just a few minutes for it all to happen. Warm, moist air collided with cold, dry air like it does so often here in Tornado Alley. This time though was a little different. In less than a few dozen minutes a violent tornado was barreling down on the neighborhoods of Moore. Watching the live news coverage, we all could tell that this storm changed many lives forever.
As the fury passed by the totality of the destruction suddenly became clear. Schools, filled with children and teachers, were destroyed. Cars, many passively sitting in parking lots, were thrown into buildings. Neighborhoods, once populated with hundreds of homes, were leveled. Sheets of metal were twisted around trees stripped of all their leaves. Twenty-four lives were lost.
In this dark moment though, the Oklahoma spirit was rekindled. In this time when the world was focused on another Oklahoma tragedy, the world saw the Oklahoma spirit rise. It’s not a surprise, and it’s nothing new…for we’ve seen more than our share of tragedy. But this pain has only made us stronger, more resilient, more committed to building a better life right here on this grand land.
Just as the strongest steel comes from the hottest fire, the strongest people arise from the deepest pain.
It’s that strength that lets us get up when we get knocked down, that lets us keep moving forward when we think another step is impossible, that lets us keep hoping for a better tomorrow when all hope seems lost. We are strong. We are resilient. We are hopeful.
We are a people who came to this state with little but big hopes and audacious dreams eager to claim a piece of land and build a life for our children. We are a people who have seen the winds sweep away our soil and our livelihoods, but never our hope. We are a people who have seen our two most famous early Oklahomans die in a single fateful plane crash. We are a people who have seen first-hand the horrors of domestic terrorism and senseless violence. And we are a people who have been battered by more than a century of deadly tornadoes.
Because we’ve been through so much, we are a people who get perturbed when those on our nation’s coasts look down their noses at us. We are a people who get irritated when others tell us how we should live, or what we should believe. We are a people who cringe when others see our waving wheat fields as only flyover country.
We know that we are not perfect, but we are good, we are compassionate and we are giving. It is this spirit which led the teachers at Briarwood and Plaza Towers Elementary this week to use their bodies to shield students from tornado debris. It was this spirit that enabled law enforcement officers to stand in the way of the oncoming tornado to divert traffic from the storm’s path. It was this spirit that compelled Oklahomans around the globe to rush to the aid of their friends and neighbors.
In times of tragedy like we saw last Monday, it is this Oklahoma spirit that lifts us up and carries us forward.
We will never forget what we’ve lost. We will never forget the pain we endure. But this week reminded the world that regardless of what tragedies befall us, regardless of how dark our days get, Oklahomans will endure.
That we will eventually be OK.
For we know, better than most, that at the end of this storm the sun will shine on us again.
MICKEY HEPNER is the dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Central Oklahoma. Hepner serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors for The Oklahoma Academy.