I brought my family to West Texas almost 20 years ago. And when we came I knew we wouldn't be here long. In fact I told Karen, Two years and we'll move to a bigger city. Let's just give it two years.
But then somewhere along the way it started imbedding itself in us. The people. The way we do the things we do. The generosity. The friendliness and the very definite "give-the-shirt-off-our-back" attitude that a lot of us have.
We may take our lumps and we may be deserving of some of them, but don't ever let anyone tell you the people in West Texas don't love each other. It just ain't true.
I never met Odessa police officers Arlie Jones or Scott Gardner or Abel Marquez. Not in person anyway. But I have met their spirit. And it resides in the hearts and minds and faces of the people who call themselves Odessans. And in the people who call themselves West Texans.
As many of you know, there exists in our little corner of space a rather healthy competitive spirit between the towns of Midland and Odessa. We raise our kids here and our hell over there. That's what people will tell you anyway. It's one of the first fables I ever heard about these two towns; towns that have more in common than they'd like to admit sometimes.
But all that talk about the difference in the character of the people in these two towns: don't believe that for a second.
When three officers are gunned down by a man riding a daylong whiskey trip, people come together and tend to tear down barriers and walls just for the purpose of becoming one. It's so much easier that way.
Not since 9/11 have I seen such a coming together because of a common tragedy. At Tuesday night's "American Tribute" in Midland's next-door-neighbor city, I saw the Godliness and the goodness of an entire community living as one.
And I was most impressed with a 17-year-old Odessa kid named Sam Logan. That's him in the photo. Sam is a quiet guy with a kid-next-door look, a hint of a smile, the kind of glasses that grow dark in the sunlight and a politeness that would speak well of all 17 year olds. Sam gave up his Tuesday evening to come say goodbye to Cpl. Arlie Jones, a man he knew for all of 30 minutes, when Jones pulled Sam over for speeding a year ago.
"He gave me my first speeding ticket," Sam said when I asked him why he was at the tribute. From that moment, I knew I was dealing with a special teenager. Sam continued to speak well of his town and of Jones, who he said talked to him for about a half hour, teaching him a little about life and safety. Sam said Jones told him he remembered being a kid, too, and he understood why he was speeding. And when Sam said that I knew he had dealt with one special Odessa policeman.
A cop that is remembered a year later -- with admiration -- by a teenager, after being given a speeding ticket. Remarkable in today's world, wouldn't you say?
Maybe the kid is the product of a fine raising. Maybe he reflects the quality of people in Odessa. Maybe -- probably -- it's a combination of both.
There was also a woman at the tribute who, along with her husband, ironed all 3,005 American flags. Ironed 3,005 flags! Imagine the dedication.
And then there is the story of how law enforcement officials from other West Texas law enforcement agencies will patrol the streets of Odessa today so OPD's officers can attend the funeral services of their fallen comrades.
And then there is this story: at University Medical Center in Lubbock, where OPD Cpl. Abel Marquez is receiving care, the flags in front of the hospital fly at half staff to pay tribute to Odessa and its slain officers.
I have tried to explain to my extended family in the big city back east just how special this place called West Texas is, but I can't ever seem to do it justice in the simple telling. Through no fault of their own, they can't fully grasp what this place is all about. How I wish they could.
I grieve for the people of Odessa as thousands of West Texans do today. Out of tragedy often comes much goodness, and I have seen it in Odessans. But I suspect it's been there all along.
As sad as I am for them, and as grateful as I am to see God working through people in the wake of such profound loss, I remain glad that I moved my family here. But even more so, I am glad we never left.