Wednesday, May 2, 2012

We Are (Still) Nashville

  It's hard to believe that two years ago, we Nashvillians were wading through the flood that left us stunned. The city and her people took an enormous hit, though it barely made a blip in the national news.
  But we saw it. A few days after the flood, I wrote the following article, that was published in a Kentucky magazine. Two years later, I think it's good to remember.

Nashville Keeps Going
By Kristi Stephens Walker
I have always hated those stupid sayings about when the going gets tough. I don’t like the “tough gets going” part. I especially don’t like the “tough goes shopping” part that cutes it up. But after what I have witnessed over the last eight days, I would have to say that when the going gets tough, Nashville gets tougher.
I live in Nashville. Right now, no one goes anywhere without talking about the flood.  No one.  Further, no one wants to. It is on every mind, in every newspaper, on every news channel in Music City.
A little over a week ago, Nashville endured the worst flooding it has ever seen. FEMA estimates over 1.5 billion dollars in damages. At least 10 people died in Nashville, more in surrounding counties. Homes are lost, employees are displaced, historic landmarks are destroyed. Schools have just re-opened, after a week of crisis management. We are being asked to conserve water. 
But the people of the Volunteer State’s capitol city keep going.
Our beautiful symphony center, the Schermerhorn, is awash, along with its glorious grand piano.  The hallowed ground of the Grand Ole Opry, sacred space for so many of country music’s own, is severely damaged. Even Barnes and Noble Booksellers at Opry Mills mall, where I have worked part time as a barista making latte after latte, is laid bare by the flood of 2010, and the employees scattered among other stores in the region. They, like so many others, are grateful to be safe and doing the next right thing.
But the most remarkable thing about this flood, is how Nashvillians have organically begun to rebuild the community. As immediately as families were being evacuated from homes, churches were opening their doors to provide refuge and safety. Community centers and organizations were setting up information and distribution centers where folks can donate clothing, personal care and cleaning items needed by flood victims. Throngs of people are turning out to help neighbors—and even strangers—sort through rubble, provide lunch to other volunteers and generally pitch in.
Tonight, I looked over the Facebook posts of a friend who has suffered tremendous loss to her home. From the time she and her daughter were forced out by the rising water, her posts (including a mobile upload of a photo that showed water almost covering the stop sign on her street) gave updates on their safety and remarks of gratitude to caring friends and family. Remarkably, as her situation worsened, her gratitude increased, continually mentioning the “blessings” she has received. I want to think if FEMA was standing in my gutted living room assessing untold damage, I could have an attitude like that.
Still, we grieve, but we go on. We joke about not showering for days to conserve water. At the grocery store, I see fewer cell phone conversations and more real ones. Did you stay safe, people want to know? Did you have damage? There is real concern. On a broad scale, the entire community is going there, too. Schools are collecting toys and books for kids. Churches are feeding people, offering supplies and space as needed. Benefit concerts and telethons are raising money. Local businesses are giving discounts or portions of their proceeds to help out.
All in one fell swoop, it seems, while people were asking, “Where do we go?” the city of Nashville, TN was rallying with, “It’s go time.”
I can’t help but wonder what I would have wanted to save if I was forced from my home, after of course, my family members’ safety was ensured. I considered my beloved pictures and scrapbooks and my signed first edition of a Pat Conroy novel.  I thought of all the art projects my kids have made over the years and my husband’s trombone. What about my aunt Sue’s purple handkerchief  or my grandmother’s magazine rack—the one her father made her when she got married? None of my cute shoes made the cut, nor did any electronics, although, truth be told, I may try to grab my laptop, too. But really, if we had to go, would any of the stuff matter? In that moment of realization, that frightening awareness of leave-taking, would I care a whit about anything but my family and our safety? I doubt it.
So, all over Nashville tonight, mothers lie awake—on cots in church basements, on neighbors’ couches, in hotel beds—thinking of their shattered, lost wedding china, their soggy, ruined high school yearbooks, their children’s baby teeth and first haircuts—and they weep. We weep with them. But they keep going. Tomorrow they will get up and do the necessary work to contact FEMA, get phone service, track down deodorant, school uniforms, lunch.
And Nashville will keep going, too.  She is a strong, good city. She’s taken a beating these last several days, but if you listen closely, amid the busy hands and feet going in every direction, her music still plays.
  Nashville, I have seen you re-building, surviving, moving on after such a tough time. I saw the collective cringe that happened for months every time Lisa Patton said heavy rains were on the way. I high-tailed it over to Opry Mills the minute the doors opened, and remembered how it looked in May of 2010. I grieved the absence of Barnes and Noble. I remember everyone adding We Are Nashville to their profile pics and t-shirts in an effort to echo hockey blogger Patten Fuqua's true statement that became our city's rallying cry.
  And, gratefully, we are still, indeed, Nashville. 

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