I am a Louisianian. That may not mean much to you. To you, it may just be another way I identify myself, like having dark hair or being of a certain height. But for me, and for everyone else classified as a Louisianian, it means a lot more. It means we cheer relentlessly for a professional football team that had a losing streak a mile wide until we finally won a Superbowl. It means we don’t know what in the world to do when it snows. It means we eat crawfish and pralines, drink Community coffee and Abita beer, and put Tony Chachere’s on just about everything. (And for the record, we just call it “Tony’s”.) But most importantly, it means we understand rebuilding. We have to...we do it just about every year. When you live in a hurricane path, that’s just a risk you take. Louisianians are a resilient people.
I am also a Nashvillian. This week marks the anniversary of my move to Nashville. I spent 3 years in Philadelphia and never felt as at home as I do here in Nashville. As I sat in traffic yesterday on I-40 after dropping my mom off at the airport, I started thinking about the similarities between Baton Rouge and Nashville and why these two places have always felt like home to me.
Over the past several days, I have watched my new home become so much like my original home. As my mom and I sat glued to the tv on Saturday watching the weather forecasts, it started to sink in. This storm was serious. We had seen it so many times in our own hometown that we could reasonably predict what would happen. On Sunday, our greatest fears for the city became a reality. But we never imagined what would follow in the next several days. Home after home filled up with water, the city’s historic buildings were bathed in dirty floodwater and the tourist hubs began to disappear as the water crept up farther and farther. And still, the story barely made the national news. It was an all-too-familiar situation.
In late August of 2008, Hurricane Gustav ripped through Baton Rouge, destroying homes and businesses and cars and lives. Like Nashville in the wake of the flood, the media graciously donated fifteen minutes to the “sad situation” in Baton Rouge and it was just as quickly brushed aside in favor of other news. But for 8 days, the city sat without power. The trees that once lined the beautiful streets of the capital city still lined the streets, but in a much sadder and more chaotic fashion. Debris was strewn about, cars were crushed and homes were roofless.
And yet, no one knew. Just a few years before, Hurricane Katrina had garnered more than her share of airtime. But she was different...she came with an abundance of crime and hate and anger and blame. Little (but equally as devastating) brother Gustav packed no such punch. In the aftermath of Gustav, neighbors pulled together to help each other out and clean up their streets. Church groups went from neighborhood to neighborhood offering to pick up debris and clean yards and driveways. Mayor Kip Holden was relentless in his pursuit to restore our city to its place and encouraged residents to lend a hand wherever they could, whether it was with their time or their money. In just a matter of a few months, no trace of a hurricane was left.
In the days since the flooding, I have seen Nashville pull together in that same exact manner. Just as Baton Rouge clung to the motto “We are BR”, Nashville is living up to “We are Nashville,” and with such radiance! This part, too, is familiar. Neighbors are helping neighbors, church groups are sending out volunteers in droves and Mayor Karl Dean is leading the charge to restore his city. There is very little crime resulting from the flood and no one is whining. People are just doing the only thing they know to do, supporting one another. Perhaps that’s why the national media is only just now picking up the story the way they should.
People helping themselves doesn’t garner big ratings. Communities pulling together to accomplish more in a day than major agencies accomplish in weeks doesn’t sell. Picking up the pieces and moving on doesn’t make the front page. But cities that repair themselves and hold their heads high come back. And they come back better than ever.
In his inaugural speech in 2007, Mayor Dean said "Nashville needs to be a city for families." Well, Mayor Dean, Nashville is a city for families, but its also a city of families. This isn’t just a city, it is a community. It is a family.
My heart aches for the people facing loss and devastation. But I am also filled with a sense of immense hope that we will all pull through this because of the faith this city has in God, in itself and in its people. My favorite quote is quite possibly more relevant now than ever before.
“When you come to the end of all the light you know and are forced to step off into the darkness, faith is knowing that one of two things will happen: Either there will be something solid for you to stand on or you will be given wings and taught to fly.”
Faith is knowing we will recover. So go ahead Nashville, spread your wings. Fly.
9 hours ago