By Bryan Farha, Ed.D.
Oklahoma City University
The crises that Oklahomans have had to endure over the past few decades are mounting—from natural disasters like the tornado that just ripped part our treasured Moore community to shreds, to terrorist attacks such as the bombing of our Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building when it was bombed on April 19, 1995. I counseled rescue workers for this tragedy. I am certain that many from other states wonder how we can sustain ourselves in light of such gargantuan tragedies. There seems to be something special about the way we adapt and cope with extreme obstacles. Oklahomans have developed a type of resiliency that is hard to measure—but easy to observe. When I first began witnessing how we responded to monumental challenges—such as the 1995 bombing and the 1999 tornado that destroyed much of our Oklahoma City community, I noticed there was an immediate reaction questioning how such a tragedy can happen to our community. Obviously, this response is expected, but we’ve come a long way in twenty years. Now the immediate reaction, in the face of our current tragedy of tornados, is much clearer, decisive, and measured. We get a plan of action to locate missing children and others—then we begin rebuilding. We know what we’re doing in this great state. I saw this, when the tornado ripped through Moore, Oklahoma on May 20 2013.
However, after so many crises, how can we possibly endure tragedy after tragedy? Isn’t the natural inclination to collapse emotionally and physically? To give up? First, Oklahomans have a lasting bond that is difficult to break. We’ve been overcoming for a long time and, unfortunately, we’ve been forced to excel at it. With each tragedy, the bond becomes stronger. Strangers will risk their lives for other strangers without even a fleeting hesitation. A neighbor will put their life at risk in an attempt to rescue another’s child. Another way we survive is by allowing our children to express emotions after a tragedy. This is essential for the well-being of young children. Some parents are tempted to simply lecture to their kids in an attempt to “explain” such crises. More often, we teach our children to freely express themselves and speak as much as they wish about the often unanswerable questions surrounding such perplexing events. This puts our children on the path to recovery—even if we have difficulty answering their questions. We are aware that the traumatic feelings will never go away, however, so we seek not to eliminate the possibility of reliving the awful feelings, but to minimize their intensity and frequency. We know that total closure is unrealistic. Next, we further anchor the connection with our existing support groups of family and friends. Oklahomans know that attempting to handle tragedy alone is not a healthy approach—so we seek our loved ones to help get us through. The more people in our support network, the better. Then we learn to say goodbye to those we have lost. Realizing that life is ultimately transitory, we do the best we can at finally letting go—as difficult as this may seem. This is the only way we can truly look to a purposeful future. Lastly, acceptance is the key to enduring. In the face of apparently meaningless events, we somehow find a way to gain meaning from tragic experiences. Oklahomans accept that we live in a vulnerable place geographically. Moreover, we know with such geography come some very hard times. We’ve become good at repeating the cycle as often as necessary. We’re prepared and good at it. The sum total of all this is resiliency.
I’ve lived in Oklahoma my entire life—and I will never move away from this great state. This is home—tragedies and all.