Tornados, Time, and Neighbors

Tornados, Time, and Neighbors

Time is so strange. This week feels like forever. I can only imagine how much stranger it feels to those who lost their homes in the storm, or worse, lost loved ones. Tragedy as a way of bringing everything to a standstill. Each day is an eternity, each heartbeat is painfully slow.

It’s as though a bubble rises up around the tragedy and everything inside is in slow motion. The world rushes by outside the bubble still on normal time, doing normal things, but for those inside everything is slow and painful and hard.

I found myself on the edge of the bubble this week. Personally, my family and I were unaffected by the tornados. They missed us, carving up a long swath of several cities just south of where we live.

I hadn’t gone to sleep yet when the warnings popped up. It was so fast that we would barely have made it to shelter if it had come our way. I sat in the dark and got on facebook. There were so many people on, reaching out to each other from basements and closets and bathrooms where they sat huddled with their children and if they’d had time, their pets.

“Are you okay?”
“We’re okay, it missed us.”

Like an individual liturgy, a call and response pinging back and forth across the wireless waves in the wee hours: “Are you okay?”

“We are but our house isn’t.”

And then Nashville happened. And Cookeville happened. And I don’t mean the tornados, I mean the response. People turned out and showed up and brought and are still bringing supplies, showing up with chainsaws and cutting up trees. I heard today that hazardous tree removal teams that had been sent to help have sent people home because the volunteers have already done so much.

And it’s so damn beautiful to see.

Most of the people I know who live in Nashville or nearby, even if they couldn’t physically help have been boosting the signal. We’re sharing information far and wide, and donations are coming in from friends and family in other states. Individuals who can shop are collecting donations from people who can’t and are delivering carloads of supplies.

A fraught election year and coronavirus fears haven’t been able to squash this outpouring of neighborliness.

Some sites have had to turn volunteers away, they were so overwhelmed with help. And of course in the midst of the bright spots, North Nashville, the predominately black neighborhood that was hit, had been underfunded and under-helped by comparison. But we boosted that too, and it’s gotten better, though they are not to the point where they are turning people away. The news crews didn’t go there, as I guess demolished music venues in North Nashville are sexier for national news and local news alike.

So it’s not all some instant utopia, but it does make one think about how well humans do come together when their neighbors are affected. And maybe Tennessee is just particularly good at it, I don’t know. As one friend said, folks who are new are about to see why we’re called the volunteer state. And it’s true.

I just hope we can hold onto some of the neighborliness as we move forward into the rebuilding stage. Already, predatory developers are swooping in as they did after the 2010 flood, trying to buy up houses for cheap so they can gentrify areas and make a boatload of money. So the community will have to come together to see if we can stop that this time. Social media has definitely helped because we’ve got people talking about land trusts and things I’d never heard of in 2010, but it makes it so much easier to resource and educate and organize.

Anyway, there’s not some big revelation in this post, I just needed to process out loud from the edge of the bubble here where time still feels slow and strange and pain and love are intermingled as we sort through the rubble of our neighborhoods.

Donate to Gideon’s Army to help North Nashville here.

If you’re local, here’s needed supplies and updates.

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