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We Are Nashville . . . which is what worries me

June 12, 2010

Some six weeks ago, the rains came down, and the great American dreams of many of our neighbors were drenched, and in some cases washed away. And then, in a great rising up of the volunteer spirit, Nashvillians came together to clean up the mess the flood waters had left behind. The national media didn’t come, but that didn’t seem to matter, for after all we ARE Nashville, a rallying cry that for a short time became both a verb and an adjective. Neighbors crossed boundaries to help neighbors, Rich folks helped poor folks. White folks helped Egyptian folks. There was a great spewing forth of neighborly spirit seen in the giving of money and time which was unprecedented. It was a good thing too, for the level of destruction seen in our city was unprecedented as well.

That was then. This is now.

Back then, in the mad rush after the floods, we would see hundreds of volunteers show up to help pull out drywall or remove wet insulation. These days, we are lucky if 20 volunteers show up on a Saturday, and very often most of them are from out of state. Back then there people were shaking their heads and moved to tears at the plight of their neighbors. Today, the tears have dried up as the debris piles have been hauled away and it seems like only a few are recognizing the major task of rebuilding ahead of us. Five or six weeks ago, we WERE a Nashville that put aside the normal cares of life to offer love and support in the face of devastation. Today, we ARE a Nashville that has put that out of our minds, focusing instead on things like the CMA Fest, ungodly traffic, and whether our property values are rising. We have moved back to normal life, even though there are some 10,000 homes throughout the city that can’t even fathom what normal life might look like.

We are Nashville, and that’s what worries me, for when it comes to dealing with ongoing tragedy and suffering, we as a city haven’t always been willing to engage in the difficult and sometimes expensive things required for creating a solution. As a city we are sometimes like a child with ADHD, focused intensely for a few moments when properly stimulated, but quickly losing interest when the conversation become complex and boring. “Oh, let’s let ‘them” deal with it,” we say, thinking that some do-gooder or “the churches” will address the problems that surround us and save us from having to see our taxes rise to help meet the needs of those who find themselves with “their backs up against the wall…” (to quote Howard Thurman). We’ve moved into the period of recovery where what is out of sight is out of mind, and for those of us engaged in the long term work of helping people to rebuild their homes and their lives, we wonder were everyone we worked with five weeks ago went off to.

For sure, we all have had to go back to normal life at some level. But then again, hasn’t the definition of normal changed by what we experienced in May. Certainly there are folks living among us whose lives will never be the same, and they need us to get out of the easy chair from watching the World Cup and head back into the neighborhoods to offer a helping hand.

Yes, we are Nashville – the Nashville that has failed to adequately address the problem of homelessness in our city and which still doesn’t have an adequate permanent solution for those living in Tent City. We are Nashville – the Nashville where persons seeking help in paying their rent or an out of control utility bill are told by the 211 system to “…call the churches in your area, because maybe they can help…” We are the Nashville that struggles and underfunds health care services for the the poor among us, leaving our city hospital in a constant state of uncertainty regarding whether it will be forced to close. We are the Nashville which had an Office of Emergency Management that was unable to fully cope with the scope of this emergency due to the continued budget cuts they had received over the years.

We are Nashville, and sometimes, when we come through, that can be a good thing. But other times, actually in the “normal” times of life, we fall short.

I tweeted earlier today that the character of a city is not found in how it responds to a disaster in the first week, but rather what it is doing in week 6 and 7.

Today, as I looked at the pile of project folders in our volunteer center representing houses that still need cleaning, homes that need to be treated for mold, and a variety of other tasks that are necessary for rebuilding I wondered which Nashville we ARE today, for it sure seems like the interest has waned, and we’ve moved on to the latest Music Row gossip. This morning, as I sat at my desk waiting for people to show, only to have a single group from Tuscaloosa walk through the door, I wondered which Nashville we have become.

Let me say it clearly and plainly: there continues to be great suffering and need throughout the city. Yes it has gotten hot and humid, and that suffering is less present than it was just a few weeks ago, but there continues to be at least a hundred projects throughout the city that need our attention in order to complete the cleanup phase. And we are moving toward rebuilding, a time when we will need skilled labor but more importantly significant dollars to help our neighbors bridge the gap between what FEMA gives them and what the actual cost of rebuilding their home will be. As my friend Rob Moreland with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance says, we’ve moved from a sprint into a marathon, and we have many more miles to run.

So let’s all of us, you and me together, define what it means to be Nashville. Will we be like the hare in that old children’s story who runs off fast only to fall asleep and lose the race? Or will be be like the tortoise, understanding that slow and steady wins the race? Do we have the stamina to be a city that offers love and care to our neighbors as much at the end of year one as it did at the beginning?

What kind of Nashville will we be?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jodie Carter-Copeland permalink
    June 12, 2010 8:57 pm

    Jay, thank you for writing this. I am sorry you had to, but hopefully it will wake us all up. Even though I’m in Greeneville, TN, I believe we East Tennesseans are Nashville, too. And we cannot forget that we need to help, as well. I’ll pass your eloquently written words along. And, thank you for all you do for the people of Nashville. You are truly doing God’s work, and you are doing it well.

  2. tnxplant permalink
    June 14, 2010 10:24 am

    I agree with your observation that it is later, week six or seven, or month three or four that shows the level of compassion in a disaster or other trauma. It’s a lot like when someone dies, and people are initially very kind and caring. But a few weeks or months down the road, they are no longer interested because their own lives have gone on normally.

    We were flooded out of our home in Bellevue, and you are correct that interest in helping people is high in the beginning but naturally wanes as time goes on. I believe that many people want to help in ways that get attention or sound like a big job. On the other hand, no one has volunteered to help us wash the layers of dried river mud off the interior windows or pull out the 3 inch long staples which had held down underlayment for laminate flooring from the subfloors. These jobs are tedious, boring, and not glamorous at all but still need to be done.

    We are exhausted and the work is not letting up. But each day with God’s grace we do what we can and are grateful for our many blessings.

  3. June 14, 2010 5:52 pm

    I totally agree that you really can judge the character of a society by looking at how they deal with a disaster not in the days after, but in the months after. And, I agree that there are people out there who still need lots and lots of help.

    With that said though, my first floor has been gutted; I’m settled in temporary housing; and, I am working with a contractor to rebuild. I am still getting offers for free furniture and for moving help when I go back home from friends and co-workers and I’m still getting questions about how things are going out of genuine concern.

    I think at this point, a majority of people are in the stage where the experts are working on their homes OR they are waiting on financing to repair and volunteer help isn’t needed at this stage (unless it comes in the form of money). And, if volunteer help is still needed, Nashvillians aren’t aware that help is still needed and if they did, I truly believe they would still be coming around on the weekends (keeping in mind that most employers who were giving employees paid time to volunteer ended on May 31st).

    Specifically, I know my River Plantation IV neighborhood in Bellevue is nearly deserted. There are very few people really digging in to rebuilding yet. Many of my neighbors are waiting on metro inspections and permits, trying to decide if they will sell “as is” and move on or waiting on insurance money or SBA money to come through.

    Also, I’d like to say that the CMA festival was a great benefit to the Nashville businesses who had to shut down due to flooding and lack of clean water and electricity and generally to our hotel and restaurant businesses. They really needed the tourist money. And, the CMA folks are donating a lot of money to victim’s personal flood recovery as well. While I usually abhor and dread the event every year, this year I was really glad it happened so soon after the flood.

    Finally, as a flood victim myself, I’d like to say that in many ways, thinking about and focusing on non-flood, less serious issues is a big part of healing and moving on. There’s really only so much you can take of the tragedy and the despair before a paralyzing depression sets in. I know I’ve found myself watching stupid movies and reading mindless books just to take my mind off of the stress of finding financing and worrying about rebuilding. I personally think it’s a healthy coping mechanism.

    So, in summary, I really don’t get the feeling that the volunteers have moved on and forgotten us. Maybe I have too much faith in our community, but I know in my heart that Nashvillians will step up as soon as they know there’s a need. I know I only have to ask and 20-30 people will show up to help me now, just as they did the week after the flood.

  4. AmericanGulagSurvivor permalink
    July 17, 2010 11:11 am

    We should let the flood wash away the nasty stuff. About a year ago, I moved to Nashville.

    Because for many years I had tried to correct terrorism and gang activity that I witnessed, I got the whistleblower treatment, and trying to survive the Gulag Archipelago that I have experienced, right here in the USA, I tried to find shelter in Nashville.

    The same thugs that seek revenge because I am a Christian and such terrorist thugs do not want me to be a positive American, made sure when I arrived in Nashville, that I was threatened, and I mean, so threatened and cornered, that I only had a choice to pray to Jesus. Jesus listened and I am able to talk about it. After one year of violent Gulap Archipelago details I will not include here, but let me assure you that the details are no different than those taking place in Juarez, except the Juarez might be in Nashville, or Atlanta, or Chicago or any other US city, after one year, I moved from Nashville. When I get discouraged, I remember that God guided me to move from Nashville a few hours before the flood, so I was out of harm’s way. I WILL NEVER FORGET GOD’S BLESSING!

    We must never forget GOD’S BLESSINGS!

    Hopefully, the flood in Nashville washed away individuals like the thugs that hired a hitman to assult me because I became born again. They are the kind of thugs that are trying to sink this country lower into corruption. They are the kind of thugs that made sure that Nashville 2010 flood got very little coverage. They are the same thugs that because wickedness, mental illness, and terrorism go hand in had, are anti-Christ because anti-American and anti-Christ go together. WE MUST HOWEVER REMEMBER THAT GOOD WILL ALWAYS DEFEAT EVIL.

    The same thugs inject aggressions in the minds of Americans, so that many individuals begin to think that being nice or kind is a form of stupidity, which in a way explains why after a few days after the terrible catastrophe in Nashville, many individuals do not dare be “nice” any longer!

    I have personally experienced ingratitude when I have helped people, and unfortunately, a lot of people are in the same boat.

    Even if we do not help with our presence, we can still help by praying. We must continue to work on ourselves, if many people go back to their selfish ways, and we must continue to place more emphasis on practical ways, and less on material things that enslave us into debt. And we must continue to give thanks, thanks because, for me, I was able to get away from Nashville, and for a lot of good people in Nashville, because they are still around to be able to thank God.

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