People in other states like to make fun of Oklahoma – we’re an easy target because of our slow dialect and our laid back way of life (no we don’t live in Teepees and ride our horses to work, let’s just get that out of the way first). There’s nothing particularly exceptional about Oklahoma as far as geography or landmarks or anything like that, but what is exceptional about this state is the people. There are lots of talented celebrities who hail from Oklahoma – singers, actors, athletes, politicians – but the real talent lies in the every day folks. My state has seen its share of disasters – everything from acts of nature to acts of terrorism – and every time there is a tragedy, you can count on one thing: my people will pull together and do whatever it takes to help a neighbor in need. It’s how we were raised, it’s what we do. 

The last 2 days have been terrifying and heartbreaking for my state. A tornado ripped through Shawnee on Sunday, then yesterday…yesterday another one demolished Moore, which is just outside of Oklahoma City. This tornado was a mile and a half wide and completely destroyed everything in its 2 mile path including an elementary school whose students are still unaccounted for. It doesn’t look good for them or their families. Last I saw, there were 24 souls lost, including 7 children. The death toll will most likely rise once the debris starts being cleared. This is not the first time this town has experienced a major tornado: on May 3, 1999 an F6 tornado tore through Moore on almost exactly the same path as this latest tornado. The wind speeds from that tornado were the fastest ever recorded and yesterday’s tornado most likely matched those speeds. 

My niece lives in Moore with her husband, but thankfully the tornado missed her house by a couple of blocks. She said there was lots of debris in her yard but there was no damage to her house (or her dogs). I can’t imagine losing her. I can’t imagine the total heartbreak that so many families are feeling today. It’s just too much to think about. 

But as I said before, the people of Oklahoma know how to step up to the plate and help each other. My brother in law is a doctor in that area and he stayed in Moore to help out last night. My friend’s son here in my town grabbed a buddy, filled the back of his truck with water and drove to Moore last night just so they could help. There are clothing and food drives being organized and people heading toward the destruction right now just to help out in any way they can. A tremendous amount of love and support is going to be showered upon a lot of hurting people today and in the days to come. For that we can be thankful. 

So others can make fun of us all they want. Laugh at our accents, chuckle at our ranching and farming heritage, crack jokes about our Indian-named towns…you won’t find a more kind-hearted or willing group of people any where else. I promise you that. 

Hug your kids extra-tight today, wave to your neighbors, give a smile to someone at the store today. Do whatever you can to spread some warmth and kindness today in honor of those who are hurting. 

If you would like to help, here’s how (from the American Red Cross website)People who wish to make a donation can support American Red Cross Disaster Relief, which helps provide food, shelter and emotional support to those affected by disasters like the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma and Texas as well as disasters big and small throughout the United States by visiting redcross.org, dialing 1-800-REDCROSS or texting REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.