On Monday morning, May 20th, as usual, I drove my two girls to school checked that they were wearing sunscreen, gave them a kiss, and promised to see them in four days when I returned from filming my husband’s new movie, RUDDERLESS, in Oklahoma.
Later that afternoon sitting in the Los Angeles Airport I watched as an EF5 tornado devastated Moore, OK. I watched the tragedy as I have watched many tragedies, from a distance, on TV. I watched as so much damage and so much heartache unfolded. I watched as the death toll climbed. I watched as national news reported that 7 children had died in the basement of their school. Seven parents had dropped off their children, checked that they had their lunch and their homework, were wearing sunscreen, gave them a kiss and would never see them again. One minute their life was intact, the next it was blown to bits. They would have no “as usual.”
Landing in Oklahoma City I was no longer at a distance. Everyone I talked to had been touched by the tragedy. And yet everywhere I turned I saw courage, generosity, resilience and zero self-pity.
Tuesday we delivered supplies to a Red Cross drop off, then Wednesday thanks to the extraordinary brothers Lucas and Marcus Ross of KFOR News I was able to go to Moore, Ok itself and saw some of the devastation first hand.
I met a single mother of 3 who lived with her diabetic mom who was on disability. The grandma was out there cleaning up what used to be their house, and searching for her granddaughter’s kitten. She still had a cast on after having surgery on her leg 5 days before and wasn’t complaining a lick. They had lost everything, they didn’t have insurance, but they were all safe and unhurt. They were grateful.
The missing kitten was found about 6 houses down. A neighbor had taken it in. It was a happy reunion.
Red Cross volunteers were driving their personal cars through the wreckage offering water, first aid, and hugs. This woman, who had been up for 36 hours straight convinced the local McDonald’s to open early and delivered 50 cups of coffee and burgers to the rescue workers who were out there at four o’clock in the morning.
No one was standing on the side-lines, everyone wanted to help in any way they could. I went to a local church where supplies were being donated at a staggering rate. Stacks up to the ceiling of water, rooms full of baby needs, food, clothes and medical supplies. In the knave of the church they were filling new children’s backpacks with everything from stuffed animals, to toys, to notebooks and pens.
I met a family with two young children who had been at the church all day helping. Their two children, about 4 and 5 years old, had emptied their piggy banks and brought the money in zip lock bags to donate to the Red Cross.
I met a couple sifting through the debris of what used to be their house. I turned to the man said, “you’re going to need a lot of help to clean all this up,” and he said: “Oh Ma’am, we have had more help than we deserve. We are just fine.” I couldn’t believe that statement. No rage, no resignation. These people were hurting clearly, but were appreciative and hopeful. And it wasn’t just post disaster shock or adrenaline, this is who this man was even before the tornado hit.
I learned a phrase in the last three days, “The Oklahoma Standard.” It was born in the aftermath of the 1995 bombing, when Oklahomans dropped everything to assist their friends and neighbors, coworkers and strangers. Citizens lined up in record numbers to give blood and any call for supplies was answered without question. It continues to be the benchmark against which all disaster relief is measured.
These people I met and talked to were right up against adversity, not of their own making and they were generous, caring, patient, brave, persevering, and courageous. That which is best about humanity was in ascendancy. This was my first time seeing the aftermath of a natural disaster, but I know that this Oklahoma Standard does not live in a vacuum. It is indicative of the spirit of our whole country. Home again, I am going to go pick up my daughter from school. How about that statement? I am going to go pick up my daughter from school.
*Editor’s Note: To learn more on how you can assist with the Moore, OK tornado relief efforts, click here. Felicitations is a monthly letter from Felicity Huffman that premieres in our newsletter before being published on the site. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter for other exclusives, updates, and giveaways from WhatTheFlicka.com.