Do you know what it takes to be an Oklahoman? You probably don’t because to be an Oklahoman is to be nuts, balls-to-the-wall crazy, off-the-charts insane. You have to be.
In Oklahoma, when you pop out of your mama, the doctors give you the once over. They check your eyes, because they know you’re going to have to stare down EF4 tornadoes and not flinch. They check the gravel in your guts, because true grit’s making a living from hard, dry land — molding a life from red clay. And they check your heart, because to be an Oklahoman is to be the smack-dab center of the Heartland.
Then you grow up in Oklahoma with your “Yes, ma’ams” and “No, sirs” and “Ranch, pleases,” and you learn how to drive in a place where you reserve one hand for waving to the neighbors you know and the neighbors you don’t know just quite yet. Your sentences are peppered with words like “hook echo,” “vortex,” “Pushmataha,” “biscuitsngravy” and “might could.”
You go to school and you learn the history of your state, from the Trail of Tears to the land run to the Dust Bowl to the Tulsa Race Riot to April 19, 1995 to May 3, 1999. You understand that you come from misfits and mistakes and pain. A lot of pain. You realize you come from underdog stock. You listen to a lot of Woody Guthrie, and you really get what it means.
At some point, life punches you in the gut for the first time. You watch the hand of God come down, and an entire town disappears off the map.
You fall to your knees and you cry and you spit and you cuss the day and night. And then you get up.
You don’t waste your time asking the heavens why. There’s work to be done.
You see someone else shaking their fists at the sky, so you reach your hand down. And then they get up.
That’s what being an Oklahoman is. Being so goddamned resilient and perseverant that ain’t nothing or nobody can keep you down. I’ve been a lot of places, lived in a few of them, and met many great people. Without minimizing anyone else, Oklahomans are a different breed. When you’re a little guy used to getting kicked, you not only learn to pop back up but you become the first one to reach out to others.
Oklahoma isn’t a place. It’s something in your blood. It’s something that you do. It’s the shirt off your back and a tear in your eye and the giddyup in your soul.
As we watched the wreckage from this latest prizefight with nature, several people asked me if I had people there — in Moore, in Shawnee. The answer is unequivocally yes. Every ever-loving, bless-your-heart mumbler in that grand land is My People. And God help us, My People don’t give up and don’t give in.
I love you, Oklahoma, and I thank my lucky stars that I’m one of yours. And if you don’t start installing storm shelters in every public building, I’m fixin’ to raise some hell.