Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A big reminder about small-town kindness


This week has been nuts, right?

Tragedy stacked on senseless tragedy, and every single time I open Facebook or Twitter, I've been bombarded with what I'm supposed to think or do in the wake of these events.

This is not a post about how bad of a week it's been for our nation. This is a post about how my hometown just keeps coming through in a pinch.

"Travis, if you talk about Okay one more time, we're quitting. It can't be that great." 

Well, it is. And let me tell you why I got shown that again on Tuesday.

First order of business on Tuesday morning was a doctors appointment. I seem to have picked up a bit of the swimmer's ear in Florida, and I have decided that since diet and exercise are not things I want to try, I'd ask the doctor for prescription methamphetamine and appetite suppressants to keep me from eating until October.

When I walked in, I saw a familiar face, a good family friend who happens to be a nurse at my doc's office. She's very active in Okay, she's at most city council meetings, she's a volunteer firefighter, and she married into a family a love and respect a lot.

She took my blood pressure, and I joked about how the walk from the lobby to the exam room was all uphill and that's why my pulse was 500, and then the conversation turned a shade more serious.

You see, she worked a fatality accident earlier this week. You might have seen the story on the local news, but a pickup rolled over and pinned a guy who wound up dying. Alcohol was involved, and the whole thing was a mess. I'd call it a tragedy on a lesser scale, but that kind of depends on who you ask.

I told this young woman that there is no way I could do what she does. I cannot comfort the dying, I cannot work with injured and scared people. I've often said that a writer can take the coward's way out in that regard - I can just step back and ask questions after everyone is taken care of. Don't get me wrong, the real journalists out there know what I just said is false. But I never considered myself to be a real journalist, just a writer.

She looked at me and laughed, and said that she can do all her job requires except speaking to the families. Something her husband is good at, she said. I mentioned that it was funny how God pairs us up in life, and more laughter followed. Then she said something I'll never forget.

"This girl, Travis, she stuck with me. I don't know what it was. I prayed with her as she was getting in the ambulance, and since then I've added her as a friend on Facebook."

I think we all assume that emergency personnel have to create a distance between themselves and their jobs. They see so much, that it helps to have the dissonance there, otherwise they can easily be overwhelmed. I can understand that. Doctors, nurses, volunteer firefighter, EMS personnel, and law enforcement all have to deal with the worst. I find no fault in their removal from attachment.

But this young woman, this young woman from Okay, Oklahoma, went above and beyond what her job required of her that night. It wasn't loading another injured body into an emergency vehicle, it was a held hand, a prayer, and a conscious effort to follow up. That struck me.

I'm positive that emergency personnel make that kind of personal connection every day. But it makes me extraordinarily happy to know that we have that kind of person working in Okay.

As I left the doctor's office, I went to my new favorite place in Muskogee, the QuikTrip. Walking in, I saw a student of mine, a future student of mine, and their father picking out soft drinks. I stopped by to say hello, and asked them how their summer was going, and jokingly told them they better be ready to write when they walk into my classroom in a couple of months. It was a great conversation.

Then I saw another Okay alum putting the lids on her drink as well as her daughter's. As we met in line to pay for our items, I looked at the future student and asked, "When do I get you?"

Mom spoke up. "Two years," she said. "And you better still be there."

I gave her what has become my standard rhetoric when my loyalty to that town has been called into question.

"I'll die there, or I'll retire there."

She laughed, and as the cashier rang up her items, she looked at him and said, "Oh, and I'll get his too."

I was floored. The sheer kindness of such a simple gesture left me stammering out, "You don't need to do that," and she laughed and told me to be quiet. I thanked her and left, smiling the entire way to my truck, out of the parking lot, and dang near the whole way home.

Okay, Oklahoma. The school that's now infamous for the gun signs, and recently famous for the best state basketball run ever seen in the school's history. The town that raised my brothers and I, the cemetery where my father is buried. The town people can't wait to burn and leave. The home of the Mustangs and the church I found God in. The town that pops up on your iFunny app from time to time.

The town I love, and the people I love.

And I can't wait to invest the rest of my life there.