THE BLOG
05/21/2013 09:25 pm ET Updated Jul 21, 2013

The Culture of Oklahomans in the Wake of Tragedy

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The attention of the world has turned to Oklahoma once again. The tornadoes that ripped across the state on May 20, 2013, most notably through the southern Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, have caused incredible devastation. We cannot believe the tragedy that has been suffered by people in the area, and empathy goes out to all who are trying to recover, recoup, and rebuild.

There are many across the country and around the world that may look at Oklahoma with a note of curiosity and misunderstanding. After an Oklahoma introduces themselves to someone from one of the American coasts, many conversations continue with the explanation that it's the state that looks like a frying pan, or the one just north of Texas. They don't understand this cowboy culture that prides itself by naming school mascots after its oil success and land grabs. The openness of the land gives many visitors a feeling of 'reverse claustrophobia' that can only be felt when experiencing a rural state. They can't understand the desire to stay in this area, and live through terrible natural disasters that may strike.

What many who are from other places do not understand is the way in which Oklahomans are unique. They are self-starters who know how to rely on themselves and those closes to them. They are a hard-jawed people that know the difficulty that must be endured to reach success in even the best of situations. They are intertwined with one another, able to rely not only on themselves but their neighbors. While many other cultures in the United States have ties to their communities and families, the bonding that happens through tragedy in the Oklahoma culture is unique.

Our American family has seen some tragedy recently through natural disaster this past October in the form of a coastal superstorm, or at the hands of those who wish to take innocent lives at a sporting event last month. We have seen some of the greatest in American ability come through in times of need and disaster. We know that the American psyche is capable of incredible things when put against adversity.

Oklahomans have lived through type of adversity before as well, in the form of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building Bombing on April 19, 1995. Oklahomans again showed that character that we have seen in times of emergency across the nation, but the aftermath is different. While April 1995 was a time of sorrow and loss, it was not the end. This is where the Oklahoma culture is unique. The city not only picked up the pieces, but rebuilt bigger and better than before. It redeveloped its downtown infrastructure. The skyline changes yearly. Business booms, the entertainment district is full, and professional sports teams now call Oklahoma City home. The crisis that happened wasn't used as an excuse to roll over, but as the reason to become better.

Tornados are not like these other experiences though. We are able to give names to hurricanes and attackers. We do not do so with tornadoes. They are only referred to by the dates on which they happened, and the victims they decimate. Tornadoes do not leave an identity to define our sorrow and struggle around, and closure cannot be as complete. They only leave destruction before pulling back and vanishing into the sky. This ability to turn the lack of closure into a passion to improve is what sets Oklahomans apart.

Tornados test this resolve yearly. We commit to memory monumental dates that will live with many for the rest of their lives, like the series of Dust Bowl storms of the 1930s and the tornadoes of May 3, 1999. Now, the Moore Tornado of May 20, 2013 will be added to that ominous list.

Crisis doesn't create character in people; it displays the character that people already have. People from across the nation and around the world have shown theirs in the support that began coming into Moore almost immediately. It is shown in the personality that the people of Oklahoma give everything needed to their neighbors who have lost everything. The character of Oklahoma will be shown in the future too, as we know that recovery from this tragic event will take years.

The strange and unique Oklahoma culture that may not be understood by those who have not lived it, but the people of this State don't mind. They're busy picking up the pieces, and getting ready to rebuild and improve once again.

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