I am an Oklahoma native. I haven’t really lived here for about six years, but if you are born and raised Oklahoman, you die Oklahoman. My roots are here. My family is still here. And for the last 48 hours, I’ve been here—back to visit my parents.
The tornado in Moore is only further affirmation of my true Okie roots. In a state where the signs along the highway command that you “Drive friendly” (notice I never said drive well), I couldn’t be prouder to be from a state of hardworking resilient people who are known time and again for putting others first.
Oklahomans are from a stock, like many Americans, of people who sacrificed to make better lives for their families and their descendants. My family members came out with the railroad and for the oil. We endured the Dust Bowl, during the Great Depression. We endured the Oklahoma City bombing. And what did Oklahoma do? We took in our neighbors. We went out in the streets to clean up and provide aid. Together, we rebuilt our homes, streets, churches, schools, and our lives.
Like with most major life events, I sought solace in the comforting ritual of the Mass. The readings for today could not be more appropriate for this tragedy—for the 91 people that have been found dead, including 24 schoolchildren, and for the mass devastation left in the tornadoes’ wake.
Accept whatever befalls you,
when sorrowful, be steadfast,
and in crushing misfortune be patient;
For in fire gold and silver are tested,
and worthy people in the crucible of humiliation.
Trust God and God will help you;
trust in him, and he will direct your way;
These are tough but accurate words from today’s first reading as we accept trials and sorrow. We can only turn to God. I have a dear friend of mine who struggles accepting both the existence of God (and a good God at that) and suffering in the world. I was once wisely told to be skeptical of someone in this world who claimed to answer why children go to bed starving at night or why some people battle mental illnesses their whole lives.
The truth is we don’t know. We do know about the fall from grace and our imperfection. We know about Job and the trials God sent him—testing him in fire like silver or gold. But we also know about God’s willingness to save Lot’s city, if only a few were faithful. We know about God’s love and mercy, embodied in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
I can’t explain to you why natural disasters happen, but I can tell you that I see good arising from suffering. As the priest said in his homily, our call in this tragedy is to respond with an outpouring of love and a steadfast faith. We are called to live the Gospel, in this tragedy and every day.
In the midst of this tragedy, the local university and churches swiftly opened their arms and doors wide to provide shelter, basic necessities, and even meeting points for loved ones. There are places to take and find lost children, a shelter for pets, and a group of people collecting found photographs and mementos to return them to their owners as they rebuild their lives.
I feel blessed to see the outpouring of love that not only Oklahomans in Moore have for one another, but from my Okie friends who have spread their wings across the nation and the world. Okie roots are ties that bind.
Help the tornado relief effort:
• The Oklahoma City Red Cross will open shelters as first responders assess damage. The organization says in the immediate aftermath, the best way to help is to donate at RedCross.org or text REDCROSS to 90999.
• The Salvation Army has mobilized a number of emergency relief services in Oklahoma, including Moore, to dispense food, hydration and emotional support to first responders and survivors. Donate online or text STORM to 80888 to contribute $10 to the Salvation Army’s relief efforts or make a donation via phone at 1-800-SAL-ARMY.
• Text GIVE OK to 80088 to donate $10 to the Tornado Relief Fund on GlobalGiving. You can also donate online.
• Residents are being asked for gloves, boots, toiletries, shovels, trash bags, dust masks or cash. Bring these items to:
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Update: Since this post was written, initial death tolls have been revised by the medical examiner to 24 people--including 9 school children. 240 people were injured. (May 30, 2013)
Topics: Current Events