It’s now Saturday, May 8th, one week into this life changing event, and I find myself feeling still off balance, having difficulty focusing on some of life’s normal routines. The images of an ocean of brown murky water coming within a half-mile of our house, cars submerged on interstate lakes, and neighborhood houses underwater continue to work their way towards the front of my mind.
Last night I worked in a nightclub in Bellevue, a gig I’ve played countless times before. As a musician, I had been looking forward to a night of music with friends, hoping and expecting it would help return some of us to some kind of normalcy. It was the first time I’d seen these friends since before the flood, and it was pretty hard to talk about anything other than the weeks catastrophic events.
My friend Nick from Bellevue was home Saturday when the rain first began, and lost electricity sometime that night. On Sunday, still without electricity, he was unaware of what was going on, and decided to drive down to see an afternoon movie. As he approached the movie theater, he was horrified when he saw the entire building submerged in three or four feet of water. My friend Danny from Kingston Springs, lives on a Hill, and while his family and home are fine, some nearby houses had been washed away. He had also learned that the Harpeth River near his house, normally spanning 115 feet across, had swelled to a staggering 2900 feet in width. Another friend, Doug from Bellevue, said that his home was fine, but other homes nearby were damaged or destroyed. Doug works as a plumber, and revealed that he’s already been fixing water damaged boilers, and while he believes many units can be saved, he is hearing about some profiteers claiming all water damaged boilers need to be replaced. Yet another friend, Pam, also from Bellevue, told us of working at the now filled to capacity Microtel Inn, where her duties now include shuttling flood refugees back and forth from the hotel to local stores to buy bare essentials. Everybody I spoke to had been touched by this event in one way or another, and we are all feeling a deep sense of connection, as this new common ground we will forever now share.
We started playing music around 7 PM, and the experience was almost surreal. I remember playing songs, yet feeling completely disconnected from the activity I was partaking in, almost as if I was watching myself from the other side of the room. The notes were all coming out right, but my mind was 1000 miles away, struggling to push back the images of horror that occupied my mind. The first 50 minute set seemed to happen in slow motion, with little reaction from the room full of somber patrons, eating their dinners and talking quietly. The night felt heavy and sluggish, and what is usually a warm-up set for our typically spirited group, felt more like a funeral march. Although the next set was more of the same, we were able to shake off some of this weight for the final part of the night, the music finally cutting through this dense air of disaster.
On the local news this morning, I learned that Hickman County, 50 miles southwest of Nashville, has been hit exceptionally hard by this flood, as over 100 bridges throughout the county have been crippled or destroyed. “The town of Centreville, and much of Hickman County, for four days, was an island unto itself, with no radio stations, no telephone service, AT&T or cellular, it was all out” stated Centreville’s mayor, Bob Bond. The county is still in emergency response mode, and thousands of feet of water line have been destroyed, rendering drinking water for the county’s 20,000 residents unsafe for the next 2 to 4 months.
Another news story told of concern for some of Davidson county’s immigrant communities, where many are still residing in water drenched apartment complexes. Although officials are trying to get them to relocate to shelters, many won’t leave, as they will lose their jobs if they aren’t at their usual place of residence for daily transportation pickups.
These kinds of stories are expanding exponentially, and although my family and I haven’t been injured or lost any physical possessions, we have been forever changed. We feel exposed and vulnerable, with a strange state of uncertainty now deeply embedded in our psyche. Many others we have spoken to have shared similar sentiments. It’s almost as if we were raped, held down and pinned to the wall by a mysterious powerful force for which there was no defense. I can’t imagine the feelings held by those who have it much worse, losing homes, businesses, everything, some even losing their loved ones, and my heart goes out to them.
I know things will improve slowly over time, and hopefully there will be a return to some kind of normalcy in the weeks and months ahead. But it is likely to be a new kind of normalcy, because so much has changed. For once you have lived through an event of this magnitude, seeing the devastation firsthand, and hearing the stories of those suffering, you are forever changed. The time is now for the people of Tennessee to be strong, hold your heads up, and move forward with strength, conviction and unity. I believe the human spirit is strong, and if we open our hearts and minds, we can, and will survive.