“Anything can have happened in Oklahoma. Practically everything has.”
I underlined those sentences when I read them because this is the state I know, love and have such hopes for. Not because it’s perfect ” probably precisely because it isn’t. It is still a work in progress. And we all get to participate in creating this new thing.
Those underlined words appear on the first page of Edna Ferber’s novel “Cimarron,” a wild tale of Oklahoma from the Land Run through statehood and the oil boom. I recently read the novel, and it fired my imagination with what excites me most about Oklahoma ” that we are a brand new state full of adventure and promise.
Our early history is filled with wild stories of near biblical proportions. In fact, Ferber’s characters find only biblical language to describe the early days: “Like a miracle out of the Old Testament,” says one.
This was an exciting land of great promise, where a new life could begin and, with hard work and some luck, even thrive. Ferber describes our spirit: “People whose very presence there meant impatience of the old order, defiance of the conventions.”
There are the wild, romantic stories of outlaws, Indians, cowboys and oil tycoons. Our major public figures were bold, colorful characters who fired the nation’s imagination. Our politics was progressive, at times even radical.
This is the Oklahoma spirit that excites the imagination with the potential of this place and its people.
I was born, raised, baptized, educated and ordained in the state of Oklahoma. Members of my family have been here now for five generations, taking us back to the early days of the territories, with my Native American ancestors here even longer. I think I know something of what it means to be an Oklahoman.
“Cimarron” was published in 1929. Quite a bit of time has elapsed since then, and in that time, not all of Oklahoma’s promises have been kept. The dashing pioneer lawyer and newspaperman Yancey Cravat, one of Ferber’s main characters, explains why he is excited about living in this new territory:
“Here’s a chance to start clean, right from scratch. Live and let live. Clean politics instead of the skullduggery all around; a new way of living and thinking, because we’ve had a chance to see how rotten and narrow and bigoted the other way has been.”
Oops! We didn’t exactly get that one right.
But we are still young. And there is still a chance. It is our great potential that makes Oklahoma so exciting. It’s the adventure, the promise that we are part of something new.
This is a place where, if you are willing, you can get involved and do your part to make a better world. Anything can still happen.
Jones, who holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oklahoma, is pastor of the Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.