i’ve got a city love: reflections on the flood

I haven’t written in over a week. I wrote my last entry last Thursday night, I believe: all about how I didn’t like rain. Myself and any literature fans out there would call that a cruel irony. Saturday and Sunday, torrential rain and severe storming dumped more than a foot of rain in parts of the city. Before we knew what hit us, we were flooded. The Tennessee River: flooded. The Harpeth River: flooded. The Cumberland River: flooded. And with them,  the entire city- the West, the East, the North, the South, and the beating heart of our beautiful city- choked and nearly drowning.

A friend of mine had dinner with me Saturday night. Because part of the Interstate was already submerged by that point , we encouraged her to stay with us. And she did: till Tuesday morning, when we were finally able and permitted to leave our street. In the interim, we stayed on what we quasi-affectionately now call The Island: a quarter-mile section of street, flooded on either side by the Harpeth River, which runs behind our house, and snakes through our neighborhood.

It is difficult to describe what it was like. We weren’t on the news because no one could leave us or get to us. People were kayaking from their front door to the road, or from one part of the road to the other. The kayaks and a fishing boat, going over what used to be fields and backyards- were the primary means of getting to the Publix down our street for food and necessities during those three days.

It was very surreal. One one hand, grateful to be alive. On the other, salvaging what you could and pumping feet of water out of your yard and basement. One one hand, watching your elderly neighbors try to save their decades-old keepsakes. On the other hand, having them over for a chili dinner and laughing your way through the roughest day of the storms.

Somewhere between 20 and 30 lives were lost across the state during the ordeal. However, the overwheming majority of people were able to evacuate in time, to be rescued, and to have their friends and family either near them, or accounted for.

The economy has taken a hit, a big one, to the tune of a billion dollars or so. The are months of repair ahead for Opry Mills, Opryland Hotel, and the Grand Ole Opry; not to mention Lower Broadway, the nexus of Downtown tourism.

Any one of you who knows me knows I love, love, LOVE my city. I cannot imagine my life without comfort food, Southern hospitality, and good music. I gush about the day-to-day life in my hometown the way most people do about their Caribbean cruises and European backpacking trips. I love the rich history, the thriving arts culture, the sweet and ridiculously good looking people, the good coffee, and that unmistakable twang. Living away from home certainly helps one to grow up. But there is something about being where your roots are and being happy there that helps you to grow strong and tall. I use the term “tall” loosely.

We’re a city of artists. During this tragedy and its aftermath, people have taken unforgettable photographs, written blogs, made videos, and I’m sure the songwriters have had no shortage of inspiration. But I struggled. Writing was an impossibility. I could find no words. Even this entry, over a week later, has not been an easy one to write. I’ve had to keep starting and stopping, visiting and revisiting.

I think it’s been so difficult for me to talk or write about this whole thing because the range of my emotions has been so expansive. Certainly I am heartbroken. But there were many times during the ordeal we were able to laugh, enjoy time together, and find joy [trying to play Monopoly by candlelight and making shadow puppets on the bedroom ceiling come to mind]. I am grateful to be safe, that my family and friends are safe, and that there are more and more signs of the strength of the city with every passing day. But part of me feels lost. Part of me feels angry. Part of me feels guilty to be sitting in my own room, when so many people have lost everything. And then there’s the part of me that wants to fix everything and for everyone to be happy and have what they need, and feel loved. At the moment, she feels powerless. Like a child who wants to help paint a house with her box of crayons.

I have felt everything at once. I have felt nothing at all.

As the water continues to recede, clean up has begun. And as the rubble is cleared, the resilience of our city comes into sharp focus. Family, friends, neighbors, strangers, and out-of-towners lend their hands, hearts, resources, time, and listening ears to those in desperate need. Benefit concerts continue to spring up everywhere, local businesses immediately began taking up donations for those displaced. Dingy cars, unkempt hair, and paper plates are reminders of the continuing effort to conserve water.

Although I was surprised- much like everyone else- at the lethargic national media response, I was relieved that we were not at all complacent. Everyone seems to have charged into the fray to help Nashville. And that spirit, combined with the delivering power of faith and music- which nothing can dampen- gives me hope.

And seeing the Sun. Seeing the Sun always gives me hope.

I talked to two people in particular who shaped my perspective on the flood in unexpected, unforgettable ways. And both of them lost everything- or nearly everything.

One was my neighbor a few houses to the left, who had water almost up to her front door. Standing in the street, I fumbled around for words to say to console her. With some sadness in her voice- but a smile on her face- she looked at me and  said, “They’re just things.”

The other story is that of a dear friend of mine. He lost his house, his car, everything. With just those facts, his story may not seem remarkable, and perhaps  it isn’t. But what is remarkable is this: I had to find out about his massive loss from a mutual friend- after the fact. With his own car and cabin submerged, my friend had called me to check on me and ease my worries, without saying a word about his own losses. When I called him back in shock, trying to make sense of that, he thanked me for being a good friend. I have talked to him a few times since then- and somehow- he makes sure I hang up the phone more heartened and encouraged than I had been when our conversation started.

I know we’re all heartbroken to see our home and its people in pain. But seeing evidence of countless others like my neighbor and my friend-with their kind hearts and mighty spirits- gives me cause to smile. Take a minute to read about the rescue stories and the relief efforts and you’ll notice something about Nashville: we are tough as nails. There may be pain, devastation, and loss. But rising above it all is the Spirit of  our City, sweet and steady, like an old, familiar song.

Y’all hang in there, Nashville. And keep on singing.

Please visit the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee website to donate directly to local relief efforts. If you are interested in volunteering, you can go to the Hands on Nashville website to sign up and find out where to go. Last, but certainly not least, visit Cleaning for Good to learn more about joining a cleaning co-op-  and to find help for cleanup needs in your home or neighborhood.


2 thoughts on “i’ve got a city love: reflections on the flood

  1. Beth, this quite nearly brought me tears. I will ever forget out special night by candle light, and my shadow puppet show I made after I had lost all sanity.


  2. Great post, Beth!! You expressed, so beautifully, the sentiments of so many of us. The question I’ve been asking through it all is, “What does this make possible?” One answer is, “Learning, and experiencing, first hand, that people really do matter more than ‘things’.

    “… beauty for ashes …” (see Isaiah 61:2-4)


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