Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Oklahoma Strong

OKLAHOMA: a state known to this nation for terrorist bombings and horrific tornadoes. We don't need hashtags or mottos to rise to an occasion. We are good people that rise together everyday. Not solely in times of tragedy when a nation looks on and is expecting us to; but if they are watching, then watch us mourn the lost, hold our friends and family tight, and then know that the sun is rising tomorrow. Then watch OKLAHOMA rise with it. -AGL

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Rwanda has never felt so far from Oklahoma. Yet, somehow, as the dark clouds roll in and the familiar sound of thunder cracks in the background, I am comforted. My little Okie bones are longing to be home, but as I sit, gripped by the footage, my little Okie heart has never been so proud.

It was just after 10pm in Rwanda on Monday night as the tornado ripped through my hometown. I was texting back and forth with my mom, who was in the underground parking garage downtown at her office, as she told me, "It's bad. Really bad." When she ventured out to assemble the family and assess the damage, I waited and refreshed Facebook, over and over. Trying to piece together the path of the storm, praying as I waited to hear that everyone was safe. My mom was on her way to find Gran, who thankfully had ridden out the storm in her storm cellar, and they were on the way to my aunt's house. Preparing for the worst. It would take a couple more hours to learn that Lynn did lose her home. For a second time. This isn't our first rodeo.

But, it was bad. Really bad.

I stayed awake the entire night, watching and reading status updates, as friends and family made their way "home" from work. There were tears for the families who would pass the night incomplete. Tears as I tried to make out familiar landmarks amongst the destruction. Tears for an entire community that would be forever changed.

As soon as it was morning, I went to friend's house to see if I could find any channels that might be covering the story. CNN had taken over for most of the day. They had people on the ground and I was able to see the full scale of the damage. I don't know another word but heartbreaking. Literally, your chest aching for your home, your family, half a world away. Chris Cuomo felt like a lifeline. Visibly shaken, he interviewed families and officials with sincerity and spoke about what he knew, and didn't know, with integrity.

Today, however, most of the coverage here was back to normal. I was happy to find that SkyNews (British, I think) was still running full coverage from Oklahoma, but I became aware very quickly that this was their first rodeo. Pride boiled from deep inside as reporters "on the ground in Moore, Arizona" talked about the "rubbish strewn about" and how "many residents simply wouldn't return". One reporter stated that this storm had "ripped out the heart of Moore."

The truth is, many residents will return (many have already rebuilt once) because it's not "rubbish" or even debris, it's people's homes. It's dining room tables where families gathered for meals. It's beds where parents tucked in sweet babies at night. It's priceless family photo albums and heirlooms handed down for generations. There are countless memories wrapped around every single board and brick.  

No, this storm did not rip out the heart of Moore. In fact, I would say, it's quite the opposite. The heart of Oklahoma is beating strong. And it's not because we are used tornadoes. How could we be? It's because we know what's important, we have hope in Something greater. The Church is in place, neighbors are locking hands, families are banding together. Moore will rebuild.

Being away has given me a different perspective on everything that is going on. I haven't seen it, firsthand. I don't know all the facts and I'm still grasping at any info I can get my hands, but I can emphatically say, I have never been more proud to be an Oklahoman.


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