Tension in the Timeline 10


They came on horses, on foot, in crowds tired and tattered, forcibly marched west, faces stained with salt and dust and heartache.

They came, freedmen who had heard the tales of jobs, chances, homes of their own. They boarded trains, rode wagons, gathered up their lives and moved them from the deep south to the growing west.

They came for the oil. To find it, to honor it with buildings and rail lines and then they came to feed the oil and its congregants, with groceries and healthcare and law.

And when they arrived, they worked. They saved. They grew their families and made their homes. They lived by the unjust rules and they fought in the first World War. They had expectations. They harbored their dreams.

They watched as their dreams ignited with the fuel of hate. They witnessed their world return to the red earth from which they had coaxed it. Thirty five city blocks turned to ash over two days in 1921. They gave their lives in a home front battle that continues riddle the city with shame.

Nearly 100 years later, Tulsa wonders if anything has changed, in light of the so-called Good Friday Shootings. That light shines like a prison yard beacon into the corners of our history, and most of us are uncomfortable with what scurries in those dark places.

Living in a city with a complicated history is living in the tension. Embracing this city as my home has come to include cherishing its past, a worn blanket unraveled by the small fingers of time, even the ugly parts. The ugly parts are still part of the story, and telling the story keeps it burning in our minds. This is the power of story.

Writers are taught that to create a complicated character for whom the reader can cheer, he must not be perfect. Readers must be able to identify and sympathize with the character. The history of Tulsa, including the sordid bits, is compelling to me because it is the imperfect character that I have come to call home. So I live in its tension right along with it, and try to tell some of its story.

What tensions are in your city or life? How do you manage the dissonance?