I live in tornado alley. I was born and raised in Oklahoma and tornadoes have always been a part of my culture and life. I’ve crouched under mattresses and crammed my family into hallway cabinets; I’ve listened to the Doppler sirens drone on and on; I’ve looked up to the sky and saw it spinning. I’ve listened to the news and watched the power flashes. I’ve rescued cats and searched for keepsakes. I’ve shoveled wreckage away and comforted the displaced. We all have. Because we’re Oklahomans.
We know when its coming. Most of us can accurately predict the storms we can do nothing about. The phrase feel it in our bones isn’t a colloquialism. We have become sensitized to the barometric pressure changes, to the little prickle at the back of your neck the sudden rise in humidity gives you. We’ve seen green skies and red skies and black skies and helped pick through the devastation of our neighbors’ homes. And sometimes our own. We know exactly what a freight train sounds like as it smashes through your residence. And we know the pain of stepping out onto the concrete pad our house once proudly stood. We all have stories of where we were and how close it was.
It has happened again in my home state. This particular storm struck closer than ever before, the flattened, tattered landscape a mere four doors away from my fiance’s residence. Still, though, I am not a refugee of nature like so many others. Our resiliency and ability to rely on each other is being called upon. Moore was ripped up by the roots and thrown back down for all of us to clean up. The familiar sites of insurance SUVs, National Guard HumVees and Red Cross relief trucks are offering a little comfort and a lot of hope. Helicopters zip across the sky and utility trucks are climbing over mountains of debris, scrambling to reset, restore and resume normalcy.
The stories range from heroic to heartbreaking. Turn on the news and see what pain, loss, fear, heart break, frustration & helplessness look like in flesh and blood. Then keep watching. Because when the camera pans away from the dirt-smeared face of a man who has no idea what to do next, you’ll see Oklahomans doing what Oklahomans do best; helping rebuild, helping move on.
The question constantly posed by those outside is “Why? Why would you live there if this is so common? Why not just move to some place safer?” Because we’re Oklahomans and this is our home. We are born of Native Americans and Oil Roughnecks and people hardened by the desolation of the Dust Bowl. Nature can have the houses. Our home is not made by the buildings we construct and the things we amass. Our home is made by the people we love and that love us back. When our house is blown away we know our neighbors will bring it back, piece by piece if necessary. When tragedy strikes, total strangers arrive with shovels in hand and hugs at the ready. That’s why this is home. That’s why this will always be home.