Writing has always been therapeutic for me. That’s why I’m a part of this site. It’s why I love to write about Oklahoma State sports and just about anything else I care deeply about. Writing helps me sift through things, it helps me reason through my thoughts and experiences. But sometimes, there’s no reason to be found. Sometimes, even writing can only manage to be an insufficient expression of something that will never really be understood.
I arrived as a freshman at Oklahoma State University less than seven months after the plane carrying members of the Cowboy basketball program went down in Colorado. All ten lives aboard the plane were lost that night. It was devastating and, months later, you could still feel it on campus. I hadn’t known any of those who lost their lives in that tragedy. We had never met. I suspect the same was true for most of those around campus, but you’d have never known it.
I will never forget how it felt. It was my first real glimpse at a truth that forms the core of Oklahoma State – this is a family. I wasn’t surrounded by tens of thousands of strangers who went on about their daily lives unaffected by what had happened. I was surrounded by people who were intensely impacted by the loss. People who mourned. People who remembered. I was surrounded by people who came together and clung to one another when their entire world changed overnight. I was surrounded by family. That same family would see their world change again ten years later.
At the time, I was teaching and coaching at a small public school south of Tulsa. My classroom was decked out in orange and black. It was the most exciting season of Cowboy football that I had ever witnessed; which, truth be told, wasn’t saying a ton at the time. The Pokes were 10-0, ranked #2 in the country, and looked unstoppable. Then, on a Friday morning, all of that suddenly seemed exactly as trivial as it really was.
The news spread that a plane crash the night before had taken the lives of Cowgirl basketball coaches Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna and OSU alumni Olin and Paula Branstetter. It’s the kind of news that is so overwhelming that everything comes to a stop, frozen in disbelief. As the realization began to sink in that this had, in fact happened, that the lives of these four people had been taken, I thought back about what I had felt as a freshman. I thought about family. I thought about the way the Oklahoma State community had mourned together, healed together, and how we’ve always remembered the ten we lost.
As dark as that day was, I knew that we would come together again. I had seen it. I knew that the connection that I felt for the first time ten years before extended far beyond University Avenue, Duck Street, and McElroy Road. I knew that we would hurt and mourn, not just in Stillwater, but all across Cowboy Nation. I knew that we would cling to one another and heal together again. And I knew we would always remember. We’re a family, after all, and that’s all we know how to do.
Though there was no reason or understanding to be found in the wake of that tragedy, I did what I always do. I wrote. I wrote about Oklahoma State, about loss and healing. I wrote about family. As insufficient as words are to even begin to express what is felt in times like that, I wrote them anyway. I needed to. To process. To heal. To remember. These are the words I wrote that day. Remember the four.
Proud And Immortal
Proud and immortal, though broken and torn.
Four taken, the rest of a Nation left to mourn.
The chill of November never brought such cold.
Though not unfamiliar, like a nightmare retold.
Too fresh, the wounds of a snowy Colorado night.
Too surreal, the thought of another fateful flight.
The bell still chimes, though now no one hears.
The fountain still flows, though now with tears.
With broken hearts and shaken to the core.
We will Ride on, in due remembrance of the four.
America's brightest orange will shine once again.
Lighting the way for the four, as it did for the ten.
Proud and immortal, arm in arm with me and you.
And ever you'll find them, still loyal and true.