It was June 8, 1974. 46 years ago today. I was 14 years old. I was home alone, with my two dogs and two cats, a long corded landline telephone, set up for relative safety on the floor of my mother’s walk-in closet. Surrounded by spectator pumps of every two tone combination known to women’s feet, I sat there. Alone and frightened.
Storm Season in Oklahoma runs from late March through August and today marks this 46th Anniversary of one of the worst tornadic events to hit Oklahoma in history. 16 people died in the state, two in Tulsa where I lived when two powerful F3 tornadoes plowed through the city.
Because of the tornadoes and flash floods in the Tulsa area, all of the television stations were knocked off the air. All I had was radio. And the phone. And the animals. And all those shoes.
My brother, Jim Bunn, then a reporter for Tulsa’s KRMG Radio and young adult at just 23 years old, was out in the field. A field rich with headlines as he has landed there frequently during his illustrious career as a multiple Emmy and Peabody honoree for the way he tells a story. Places like San Francisco when the AID’s epidemic broke out, Ground Zero on September 11th, Atlanta when the Braves “Finally” won the World Series. Quotes because his poster board which read the same in all caps, was the back cover of that issue of Sport’s Illustrated. (I digress here. Proudly.)
As I sat on the floor with Charlie Brown, Sam, Peanut and Kitty, my brother called me periodically to check on me. Keeping me informed in the moment. Doing the job our mother was failing on that night.
Since that time, I have become a seasoned storm survivor. Weathered over 40 storm seasons in total. There were many storms in and outside my marital home, where I lived 14 years with my husband and daughter on a vulnerable bald spot in Bixby, Oklahoma.
When the tornado sirens sounded, I would join my daughter. Laying on our sidewalk in front of our house. Looking into the open sky. Unobstructed by trees. Or lazy hawks makin’ lazy circles. We both just stared up with childlike awe of the greenish eerie stillness just before the storm hits the fan. So much drama in total silence.
When the air began to move, we would move to the hallway. With pillows and mattress, two dogs, a cell phone, radio and the satellite TV up and running in the living room. When she was little, my daughter once packed a bag full of groceries and provisions and brought it into the hallway with her. Canned goods and such. These are great memories for me.
Now, it is storm season again. And since the end of March, there has been much atmospheric pressure.
In January, Tropical Storm COVID19 hit Washington state. Over a thousand reported dead there as of yesterday. Travelling inland and maintaining force coast to coast, COVID19 has, according to the CDC, infected over 1.9 million Americans, killing nearly 110,000 to date.
And while there are no tornadic weather events in Tulsa this season yet, the storm warning alarms are sounding. Not the ones that go off on the first clear Wednesday of each month to be sure the alarms are in working order.
But in the streets, as people are walking in protest of the deaths of unarmed men and women of color.
Retired Generals are calling out the leader of the most powerful country on the planet for abuse of power.
This from Donald Trump’s retired Secretary of Defense General Mattis, as he recalled the oath he had taken to defend the constitution:
“Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens,” he said. “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try.”
I gotta tell you. I really don’t want to write about this. I don’t. Because it makes me really uncomfortable. I am an artist. I like to paint whimsical colorful happy things to try and bring joy to the world. That is where I find my bliss.
But when I asked my God about what to write today, this was my answer. And since I want my will to align with God’s will, I comply.So I am more than willing to comply. I have the privilege of whiteness and articulation, so I will use my words to try and be helpful in some small way.
The black community is expressing their words, too. They tried to speak peacefully from the sidewalk that what they saw bothered them while George Floyd took almost nine minutes to die under the knee of a white Milwaukee police officer.
Had they tried to help him, they may have been hurt or killed too. I can only imagine the pain they felt, bearing witness to this death. If I could guess what they were thinking, which I cannot know, because I am white, it would go something like this:
“I am a woman of color. Watching a man of color under the knee of an armed white officer. There have been over a dozen cases in the last year alone where this did not end well for the person of color. Do I step in and help? Maybe cause my baby to lose her mother? I am angry, but I cannot show it, or I may be next.”
There was no peaceful option there, from where I sit. In my white skin at a keyboard.
We use force when defending our nation against the enemy. Don’t people who have tried to be heard peacefully at least deserve our compassion for their raised voices?
The Civil War-that’s an oxymoron-did not end with two sides sitting across a table peacefully discussing their issues. It ended with a president who had had enough of the enslavement of African Americans.
Peaceful is not something that has worked. I think it is a great ideal, but reality and history both indicate that much change for the good requires more than just a peaceful demonstration in order to affect change. I am not suggesting that looters are right or that looters are wrong. Or that anyone is right or wrong for that matter.
What I am saying is that people who I call fellow citizens are rightfully tired of and no longer willing to live in fear. And I don’t blame them. I don’t have the answer but I am happy that there is a focus on the question. It is in the news, which, by its nature only leads if it bleeds. So can you blame these people who have not been heard by other means? When the stories that get told are the ones with violence or blood on them? These are just people. Trying to improve their lives. Raise their children in safety. If I felt that my children were not going to be safe in this world, I might be angry too. What would YOU do?
This country was built on the backs of slaves after we stole it from its original habitants. If I look at it THIS way, I am a guest here. And I was taught to have manners when I am a guest in someone’s home.
I was taught to say please.
So to people of darker skin:
Please. Don’t give up. Keep speaking your truth. Yelling if that is what it takes to be heard. I am hearing more people speak to the issue at hand and what can be done. Valuing you. Listening to you. And I for one, intend to do better. To help keep this on the front burner of those who would rather be looking at a skillet of burgers than what I have to say.
To people of white skin:
Please. Do better. Be open. To listen. To comfort. To care. To walk a mile in someone’s shoes. Not to judge, but to breathe and empathise. Imagine yourself having to decide if you are going to live or die when pulled over just because you are black and are getting your license out of your purse.
I was taught to say thank you.
To people of darker skin: Thank you for your patience. Some of us are slow learners. I for one am hanging up my shame so as to not insult you further with that waste of precious time. I am praying for what steps to take as one person in all of this.
To people of whiter skin: Thank you. For getting off your couches and exercising your right to protest injustice with the intent to bring change in the world. For loving people who don’t look like you and bearing some of their burden.
I was taught to say I’m sorry.
To people of darker skin: I am sorry for my part in staying uninformed about what has gone on in your world and not doing more in mine to affect change.
I am sorry for seeing this as “your” problem while I don’t think twice going over the speed limit about what might happen if I am pulled over.
I am sorry for not seeing you as just as worthy as I am. Of everything.
I commit to do better.
To people of whiter skin: I’m sorry. For my part in the apathy that we all share and can no longer if we really want to believe we live in a free country.
And I was taught that when I did something wrong, I needed to make it right.
And here we are. At the start of a new civil war. Only this time, the president is stirring the pot. Not setting anyone free. But I am hopeful. That with this giant step backward, we will see two big leaps forward.
I will close with this. When I picked up my curbside groceries the other day, it was really hot outside. I have been doing this at Wal Mart for months now with the COVID outbreak, so I see the same young men there on a regular basis. There are two who have brought me my groceries who happen to be black. I am guessing them to be in their late teens/early twenties.
In the beginning of the shelter in place here in April, I thanked them and all workers for their courage as I feel all grocery workers are brave to go to work when we can’t know who might be carrying the virus. It was a light exchange.
The other day, the young man who brought my groceries looked exhausted. I told him I could not imagine what that was like to be in and out on that hot pavement all day. I think he was tired from more than just the heat.
As he was loading my car, he commented on the fact that I had canvases in the car. I told him I had just been in a show. He told me that he likes to paint. We talked about art, my favorite thing and I encouraged him to keep doing that. I like to encourage people to be creative because of the healing it has brought me. I want everyone to have some of that. And while I was empathetic to the heat, I felt awkward about the elephant in the room, and said nothing to acknowledge the unrest going on today.
I will not repeat that behavior in the future.