#OKLegacies: The standard of grace and hope

It’s time for another anniversary of a dark day.

“The Oklahoma Standard” has guided me in many things throughout my life. Most of all, it has taught me that if you look really hard — grace floats to the top of the depths of pain.

Below is an editorial I wrote for the Cleveland American three years ago, a day after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

The Oklahoma Standard sort of took over my mind that day, so I started writing.

Watching the news come out of Boston served as a reminder of OKC. It was a reminder of hopelessness and of pain.

But even though grace is tough to come by during times of confusion and anger — the 168 souls that perished on April 19, 1995 still teach us grace every single day with their brave Oklahoma spirit still very much alive in the loved ones they left behind.

And the countless compassionate people who led our state through the tunnel and toward the light — then and now — keep our eyes focused on carrying that grace forth.

Here’s that column on Boston from three years ago, which I think is fitting for us on this anniversary of when Oklahoma City was terrorized by cowards.

God bless the 168.


Rescue hope by choking out the hate
By Brandi Ball

Published: 4/17/2013, The Cleveland American

What happened in Boston on Monday rocks my soul.
Bombs placed in a crowd of people, only to incite death and destruction?
I heard someone say afterward: “Bad has always existed. It’s not hard to believe this happened. It’s actually pretty easy to believe it. People are just evil.”
While evil is a concept that dates back almost to the inception of good, I still gasp with disbelief when things like this happen. Because no matter how much tragedy is in our world, I still believe in the good.
I believe that kindness and love reign on this Earth, no matter how much evil tries to encroach.
McViegh blew up OKC, bin Laden blew up NYC, and people all over this world are killed by hate every minute. There are unfeeling people and racists and bullies and people who live to see others suffer.
And, yes, even knowing all of that, it still jolts my soul when an intentional act does harm to others.
Perhaps that’s just my hopefulness taking root, but I always want to be stopped in my tracks with a “this is unbelievable,” look on my face when it comes to seemingly malicious matters. Because the minute I become accustomed to an idea that evil acts inherently occur in my world, that is the moment goodness begins to lose the battle.
I don’t ignore the bad. I’m very aware of its existence. But when we find it easy to believe people can callously take another’s life, that is the moment we feed oxygen to the fire. When evil becomes routine instead of anomaly, that’s when evil begins to take bigger breaths and grow and reproduce. And that’s happening right now, this week, while folks’ hearts are hardening, because constantly being on the outside looking in on tragedy is getting too painful.
My heart is hurting. I overwhelmingly trust in good and believe, on all levels, that it outweighs evil. But some days, in some places like Boston, it wasn’t strong enough. My heart is shattered because I’m disappointed brotherly love can’t always be the victor.
Instead of choosing hatred for those who do evil acts, let our hearts be softened by the heroism performed by clergy, first-responders, police, doctors, nurses, volunteers and even innocent children who are dropped to their knees in prayer.
Why? Because the alternative is too risky.
The only other option will ensure we become caught in raging flames of those evil fires. We can’t be trapped in the backdraft.
Through all the noise, never forget that things of beauty and acts of understanding and kindness are happening in all corners of this Earth. In every country. In every city. In every village. And no matter how many times evil happens this world over — no matter if it’s women being persecuted in the Middle East or genocide in Africa or murderous drug lords in Central America or dictators stealing the dignity of their countrymen or guns being shot at innocent schoolchildren or theater-goers or bombs being set off in a cheerful Boston crowd or an Oklahoma City daycare — I will still be in disbelief, time and time again.
It’s OK to be sad. I am, and deeply so. But take solace in knowing that for every one hateful coward, there are a million-plus good shepherds of society… male, female, young, old, black and white and every other shade of complexion.
We outnumber them.
When bad happens, my heart still will waver in its beating upon the announcement. My soul still will search for a way to write it off as a dream, even though it isn’t possible or logical. And my eyes always will search for those who, instead of flippantly saying, “people are just evil,” are already at work trying to choke out the hate and water the garden of kindness.
Good will win. Honor will prevail over grace.
We can’t succumb to a belief that hate cannot be overcome.
Love is alive.
But we must keep nourishing it or else we also are guilty — not of murder or of evil, but of apathy.
We will be guilty of allowing people to die in vain, all because we forgot the strength of goodness and hopefulness when they stand together as one.
Never forget to look for the grace.

 

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My “Oklahoma Legacies” series is dedicated to chronicling life in my great home state, because ol’ No. 46 makes my heart beat pretty steady and strong. Every person and every place has a story — past and present. These are Oklahoma’s. Click here to see all the posts in my #OKlegacies series.

#OKlegacies: The Hag is gone, but I think he’ll stay

Merle Haggard’s baritone. I mean, c’monnnnn.

It’s smooth. It’s strong. It’s unmistakeable.

Yes, I’m talking about his voice in present tense even though he died today.

That’s the beauty of artists, of people who create. Their physical presence is missed by their family, those who love them most. But because they are artists, writers, musicians who have living, breathing documentation of their life — their talents and connection to people are preserved for all time.

Artists are timeless beyond the grave.

It’s why, years later, we actually can feel the love between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy and learn lessons from Laura Ingalls Wilder and weep at photographs of the Dust Bowl or little John-John saluting his father’s casket.

But music as an art form is the highest to me. It puts a melody to words, feelings and images. It speaks. It binds. It heals. It has staying power.

The Hag may have died today, but through his music, he stays. 

If I ever find a place… I wanna be
I think I’ll stay
I think I’ll stay

The Hag was an Okie. A real one, not just in song. In case you have been living under a rock since 1969, more specifically, his parents migrated to California in the Depression, true Okies from Muskogee County, a little spot down I-40 that still seems to have a penchant for producing country music talent.

“Okie from Muskogee” was a piece of music that gets the political conversation flowing. It did in 1969 and it does in 2016. Good writing does that. Bluesy, “it’s-so-country-wild-mustangs-come-running-at the-first-note” lyrics do that, too. Having Jerry Reed on guitar on the studio version doesn’t hurt any either.

And when the Beach Boys and Grateful Dead both cover your most famous song, which happens to be an antiwar anthem, it’s pretty evident you knew what you were doing as an artist.

The thing about Merle is his best work wasn’t even his most popular work. The cult classics are the songs only those who bought his albums know — the crowd that adored him for keeping Bob Wills’ music a foundation for country musicians to build upon just as much as they adored him for his uniqueness and the Bakersfield Sound. The cuts that received little radio play for whatever reason, that’s where you find the spirit of Bob Wills, deep within the soft-hearted outlaw.

Portrait of American country singer and songwriter Merle Haggard, circa 1970. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

(1970 photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In 1994, Merle re-recorded his hit “Ramblin Fever,” originally released in 1977 (the year I was born).

In 1994, I was a newly licensed teenager driving the Oklahoma roads in Daddy’s old ’79 Chevy truck. I didn’t even know Merle had a new album that year — aptly titled 1994 — because the truck only had AM radio. I’d listen to Oklahoma State baseball games, the farm report and classics from the Texas Playboys, Hank Sr. and ’70s Merle and Waylon.

I could tell you all about wheat and beef prices and which tractor dealers were having weekend sales and rake you over the coals on Roy Clark and Red Steagall trivia. But new music? I wasn’t aware for a few years.

During that time in my life, Merle’s classic words spoke to me, a teenager in the ’90s. In a way, I was somewhat of an outlaw myself in that regard. Don’t get me wrong, I loved (still do) Van Halen, et al. But while my friends were standing in line together for Soundgarden tickets, I was taking solo drives on dirt roads while Merle’s storytelling made my heart sway.

Good writing does that. Bluesy, “it’s so-country-wild-mustangs-come-running-at-the-first-note” lyrics do that, too. Art is life.

“Sing Me Back Home” starts out with a verse about a prisoner on death row, but when I heard it at 17, the day they played a marathon of The Hag’s songs on KVOO, it reminded me of when I was baptized. To this day, I associate it with that personal milestone of my faith.

I remember one time when I did something I wasn’t supposed to, “Mama Tried” came on the radio shortly afterward. To a scaredy-cat teenager who had a pretty guilty conscience, I thought it was a sign. An omen. So I undid what could have gotten me grounded. Things like that you don’t forget because they have a slight comedy factor.

“A Place to Fall Apart” was my soundtrack for boys. Maybe it still is.

When I was living in the third largest city in the nation after college, I quite literally sat in my bedroom and listened to “Big City” on a loop. My sense of adventure and curiosity had waned and I wanted nothing more than to be back home on the prairie in a two-stoplight town. I thought of it day and night. I’d change up the lyrics and sing…

I’m tired of these dirty old sidewalks
Think I’ll walk off my steady job today
Turn me loose, set me free
Somewhere in Cleveland, Oklahoma

Over and over and over again, I’d croon to the beat.

As a woman in her late 30s now, I hear Merle’s “Love Will Find You,” and it is kind of a pep talk. Because, well, you know, I do sorta hide myself away. Because I’m happy. And, well, you know, heartbreak is stupid and I’d rather, well, you know, just avoid it and depend on myself. It’s so much easier.

But Merle, oh Merle. He was on to something, you know?

You can’t hide yourself away from the problems of today
You can’t hide yourself at night, just turn off the bedroom light
And you can’t try to hide your feelings
They’ll be heavy on your mind

You can’t hide yourself from love
‘Cause love will come and find you every time

And if you’re fighting with love you have no way to win
You might as well go on, give on in
And through the years, I’ve come to know
Love commands and love is never blind

You can’t hide yourself from love
Love will come and find you every time

Music will find you, too. 

The value of music is more than any one person could express properly in words.

But Merle’s words — with his ornery chuckle mid-lyrics, waiting for the fiddle to saw — kinda say it all.

He may be gone, but guess what?

Music, that’s what.

I think the Okie From Muskogee will stay.

The mascot for the common man was anything but common. Legends never really die. And neither do the bookends of life we know as outlaws and artists.

You know, I could say goodbye and leave today

But I think I’ll stay

I think, I think I’ll stay

 

Merle Haggard live in Virginia, 1984

“I Think I’ll Stay”

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My “Oklahoma Legacies” series is dedicated to chronicling life in my great home state, because ol’ No. 46 makes my heart beat pretty steady and strong. Every person and every place has a story — past and present. These are Oklahoma’s. Click here to see all the posts in my #OKlegacies series.

Sundays in my city: Donna was our head cheerleader

I am a firm believer in “encouragers.” They make our world softer and kinder and lovelier.

Encouragers are people who always are finding someone else to support and cheer on to success. They are a breath of fresh air in a polluted “it’s-all-about-me” world.

Competition is everywhere; trust me, I work in one of the most competitive industries on the planet, so I know it all too well.

Sometimes it’s tough to find the encouragers because everyone is so focused on their own victories. But those bright lights are out there, shining sweetly, waiting on a chance to uplift someone else.

Donna Alburty Davis was one of the beacons that lit the paths of my hometown. The lights flickered last week when word came of her sudden death at a very youthful 69 years old.

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Deep-Dish Pie: The time my little sister ate something and liked it

It is 3/14. You know, Pi Day.

A day about math.

Pi is numbers. A whole string of numbers that tell us the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its
diameter.

Snooze.

And math also is letters, as if life isn’t enough of a struggle. Letters and infinite numbers coexisting in an alternate universe where I always have a headache and everything is chaos. That’s math.

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Oklahoma Legacies: ‘Cash only. Closed Sundays, Hon’

When you walk past the rockin’ chairs out front and perch yourself on a barstool at the Dot’s Cafe counter, you go back in time.

It’s unavoidable.

Just a smidge off Route 66, it’s a little hole-in-the-wall slice of Americana. You’ll pay for your patty melt the same way your grandaddy did, because cash is still king at Dot’s place.

And no matter what the modern cafes do, Dot’s stays closed on the Lord’s day — because as good as those made-from-scratch pies and chicken noodles are, Dot’s leaves Sunday brunch to the ladies in the church fellowship halls. A refreshing taste of yesteryear, with a spunky tone.

When it comes to interesting cities, Claremore is one of Oklahoma’s headliners. With it being the backdrop for one of the most famous musicals of all time and frontage to America’s Main Street as it ushers cross-country travelers through, the home of Will Rogers isn’t too shabby of a spot.

Dot’s has about as much character as the city itself — and it’s had a lot of characters sitting in its booths over the years, too.

Order up some fried taters and homemade biscuits, and get a wink and a smile from the best waitress in town, who happens to be Dot’s granddaughter. Dot may be gone, but her family carries on that decades-long legacy.

Whether you stop in for the atmosphere or for the eats, you’ll leave this diner feeling a little like your soul is whistling Dixie, with a chorus of The Andy Griffith Show theme song.

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My “Oklahoma Legacies” series is dedicated to chronicling life in my great home state, because ol’ No. 46 makes my heart beat pretty steady and strong. Every person and every place has a story — past and present. These are Oklahoma’s.

Click here to see all the posts in my #OKlegacies series.


Today, I want to live here: Granny’s kitchen

Even if you grew up in the city, there’s probably something familiar about a farmhouse kitchen.

I grew up in rural Oklahoma, and still, every time I see a farmhouse-style kitchen, I am reminded of my Granny’s haven. I was only 5 years old when she died, but I still remember her kitchen.

It wasn’t fancy. In fact, it was the opposite of fancy. It had an old ’50s-style table, and in my memory, there is a pie in the center of it, covered with a muslin tea-towel.
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Because their future *is* my future.

I don’t have children of my own. I am not a mother. I haven’t had contractions, been in labor or signed legal papers.

I do, however, spend a lot of my time choosing to volunteer with and mentor to the children in my community of Cleveland, Okla. Those children aren’t mine by birth, but I invest in them because I believe it is part of my repayment to society for what it has done for me. It’s what humans should do for each other, right?

It takes a village, and our village is a collective asset — the people, the places, the things, the triumphs and the problems.

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Birthday Presence: 37 things I tell myself about life


This week marks the passing of 37 years that I have been blessed with breath in my lungs.

I am not one for wanting a big to-do on my birthday. Kind words and thoughtful best wishes are gifts enough. That’s not because I am scared of growing older, nor am I someone who declares to be forever 29.

To me, the value in marking one more year is powerful in a quiet way. I have seen lives end much too young. Becoming wiser, maturing through mistakes and celebrating milestones is not a destiny afforded to all.

So we have to take it. Run with it. Love it. Live it.
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