This year Moore, Oklahoma and Black Forest, Colorado experienced record breaking natural disasters. There is a degree of heartache of those from a community struck by a disaster that no amount of national news coverage can capture. There have been a variety of perspectives on my situation this past month – mainly unlucky. However, moving from the community of Moore, Oklahoma to the community of Black Forest, Colorado has exposed me to an understanding of two very different tragedies and the similar healing that follows. This is my story of Oklahoma and Colorado.
I had stayed in Oklahoma an extra week after graduation soaking up every remaining moment at my favorite Oklahoma spots with my college friends until I absolutely had to return to Dallas to prepare to move to Colorado. Driving southbound I-35 out of my college town and the Sooner state was one of the hardest goodbyes I have ever experienced.
The following day I spent my post-graduate depression packing miscellaneous items in my parent’s north Texas home. I did not even think twice about the tweets filling my Twitter timeline about a tornado. In the time I lived in Oklahoma I had experienced countless tornados and had even once driven through one that touched down on the highway. The spring season in tornado alley consisted mainly of my friends and I sitting on rooftops and balconies watching the sky turn green or taking shelter for a couple of hours before continuing our night. It was just a weather pattern we had grown used to – some were scary, some were not. I had not wanted to think about Oklahoma anymore that day until my mom walked into the room and said “Christina, I think you need to come watch the news…”
I sat infront of the television with my stomach in knots and tears rolling down my face. The news reports were describing the destruction as leaving the area unrecognizable. Unfortunately to those of us from that community it was, in fact, recognizable still. The turned over cars in the street, the footage of what was once buildings – we recognized it all. Moore, Oklahoma was a town OU students drove through almost daily – we ate in those restaurants, we saw movies at The Warren and now these places were on the national news in debris. I had struggled so much saying goodbye to the Oklahoma City community and now one day later there was a major devastation taking place and I wasn’t there to help. The only way to describe what I felt is heartbroken. The reoccurring thought of “I was just there” was haunting.
The events that took place in the days that followed were remarkable. I was easily able to donate clothes because countless students returned to the area. There was nothing on my Facebook timeline but statuses about ways to help the community – everything from Red Cross volunteer efforts to monetary donations through drinking Oklahoma brewed beer. The entire state rallied behind this community. The stories and pictures from my native Oklahoma friends were unreal. As I drove into Colorado I wore the Oklahoma Osage Shield on my shirt proudly.
I settled into my new apartment in Colorado Springs, Colorado and began my job downtown. On my second day of work the wildfires began. In a sense it felt similar to some of the reactions to tornados. It was nerve-racking but something that the area had experienced before. However, it was not long before the situation passed the magnitude of the Waldo Canyon fire that occurred in Colorado Springs last summer. Areas around Colorado Springs began evacuating and the remainder of the afternoon was spent watching the news. I left work that day unsure of what to make of the situation. My drive home was slow as cars paused on the highway to fixate on the huge cloud of smoke coming from the North East. When I arrived home to my apartment I stood in silence alongside my neighbors as we watched the smoke come into Colorado Springs from the Black Forest Fire.
Perhaps I am unlucky. But I also I am experiencing first-hand what happens to a community during a tragedy. The transition as a community becomes a family. Hundreds of families in Colorado and Oklahoma have lost their homes and in response thousands of people are discovering ways to aid those displaced by the disasters. I am friends of people who were working in the regional hospital that fateful day in Oklahoma and I now work for a company owned and operated by the wife of a Colorado Springs firefighter. Possessing a certain understanding of both states’ situations and experiencing the level of sacrifice occurring around me does not feel unlucky. As the fires continue to burn through Colorado I am reminded of the astounding outreach following the tornado in Oklahoma. I was heartbroken when I was not there to help my old community but I am here to help my new one.