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My Heavy Oklahoma Heart

oklahomaEvery single day I am humbled to be an Oklahoman. When I drive through my neighborhood and see the sweet elderly man walking his dog and we wave at one another as if we’re friends, or have even met at all. When someone flags me down in a grocery store because I dropped a five-dollar bill and they wanted to make sure I got it back. Or any number of other countless acts of kindness that remind me how lucky I am to live among such incredible people.

My first glimpse of seeing Oklahomans for all that they are came at the ripe age of 7, when the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building rocked our state to the very core. I remember the fear, the sorrow and tears. But mostly I remember everyone taking care of each other. I remember love. And prayer. And support.

And even at such a young age, I understood. I knew what kind of place it was, and what kind of people lived in Oklahoma. I knew the impact this event would have on us, and that we’d never be the same.

I saw it again a year later in a very personal way when my hometown rallied behind my aunt, a single mother of three, who was dying of breast cancer and had never been able to afford to take her family on a vacation. The people of our town came together and made it possible for all of us to travel to Disney World and make priceless memories with her before she passed away.

And then again when a plane crash took ten members of the Oklahoma State University basketball family.

And every time a soldier doesn’t make it back from war, and our little towns gather for parades and processions to honor them for their sacrifices.

In fact, I’ve seen it over and over again.  Every time there is a national tragedy, I watch in awe as Oklahomans rally together to cover people in prayer, to donate blood and supplies and money. And as people pile into trucks and cars and drive for hours to help those in need.

And still, after all these years, I never cease to be amazed at the generosity and outpouring of love from my fellow Oklahomans in times of tragedy.

Growing up in Oklahoma, we all have memories of taking cover in high school locker room showers, or camping out in the hallways of our homes covered with mattresses and couch cushions every time we heard the tornado sirens. We almost become immune to it, honestly. We hear sirens and run out our front doors to check out the skies. We say things like “Just another spring in Oklahoma!” But we aren’t immune. And the ever-increasing amount of precious lives lost this week in the storms can attest to that.*

It will never make sense. The pain will never completely go away. But we’re Oklahomans, and because of that, we’ll come together like we always do and help one another rebuild. We’ll pray without ceasing, we’ll empty our pockets and open our homes to those in need. Even if we have next to nothing to give, we’ll give it anyway.

My grandpa was known for saying, “I would rather give to someone who needs it more than I do. That’s why I’ll always be broke…but that’s OK.”

And that’s OKlahoma.

-Hayley Westwood

hayley westwood

*Written after the 2013 Moore tornado

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