When you walk into a hospital room there is an unconscious behavior that even kids learn at an early age. You are quiet. The quiet does not speed the healing process. It does not take away the trauma that was experienced at some point in the past. It is not caused by sterile white sheets or official looking people. I think it comes from some place deeper. It happens in movies where something bad happens. It happens on the other side of the world with indigenous tribes. It happens intuitively.
I have written before about the YMCA I go to. I live in a very yuppie part of town. The parking lot is full of vehicles called by numbers and letters, not names. I go after I drop the kids off at school. It is always the same guys. There is sufficient jocularity to remind you that everyone is striving toward be healthy. Lots of women in tennis outfits and good tans. And lots of talk down the stairs and into the men’s locker room. Talk about sports, financial markets, vacations, retirement and health discussions about knees, shoulders and backs. But not today.
Today was quiet. Everyone was there, same guys. No one died (that happens every once in a while). There was a sign on the door asking everyone to conserve water; the whirlpool was turned off. The slightest reminders of what we the citizens of Nashville have been through the last five days. Where I live, the grass has never been greener and my roses are growing like crazy. But that is not so for some of our neighbors.
It is quiet at the Y, like in the hospital. Something has happened. The initial trauma is over. You can only see so many images of damage and people struggling before you grow a little bit numb. Almost everyone is back at work. The “wake” is over and everyone must get on with things.
Still there is a certain reverence for what everyone has been through. While most people had no serious damage, everyone knows someone. This whole event has awakened something in people. We all experienced something together.
I read a blog yesterday from a sports writer here in town. He was making the point that even though this has been defined as a “500 year” flood, the media outside of Nashville wasn’t that interested. Between an epic oil spill and a new terrorist bomb plot there was no room for water. Finally, the administration declared four counties a disaster area and that will help those hardest hit.
This type of thing has happened in Fargo and Cedar Rapids. Those along the Mississippi have experienced flooding for as long as people have chosen to live along the “Big Muddy”. But this is our community and things like this don’t happen here.
The blogger went on to make another point worth repeating. Perhaps we were not that interesting to national media because there was no bad behavior. We can all recollect images of looting and patrolling National Guard units sent to keep the peace. Certainly Katrina is forever etched into our memories and what Nashville experienced cannot be compared with that devastation. While there were hundreds and hundreds of nationally reported water rescues, air lifts, injuries and deaths we just kind of took care of our own.
I talked to my friend Johnny today. He was on his way to surgery, another day at work. His family has a beautiful home in one of those neighborhoods where the bushes are all trimmed symmetrically, yards are almost perfect and the kids all have straight teeth. They are an amazing family. He and Donna are two of the most giving people Barbara and I know.
Their daughters were at our daughter’s birthday party Saturday while it was pouring cats and dogs and we were still laughing. We connected that night to do the girl swap to get everyone home. He met me a mile away from his house so I wouldn’t have to drive through the water. Then his family had to be evacuated by the National Guard Sunday night. Quite dramatic for them, that isn’t why I mention it though.
I checked in with him this morning. He spent about three minutes talking about the water around his own house. He then jumped in to describing the damage done to neighbors’ homes, friends who had dry homes even though they lived close to the river. He didn’t spend much time talking about his losses, it was about other people. He was much more interested in talking about others. I think our book calls that a servant attitude.
This morning at the YMCA it was quiet. There was quiet talk. It was about all of those people that suffered loss. Most of the men were just like Johnny. They talked about others, jumped in and helped neighbors. No talk about looting. I didn’t hear a single comment about what the government was going to do to fix the situation. No talk of lawsuits or being wronged; just quiet.
Everyone knows that healing takes time. They say that there are billions of dollars of damage. Our most notable attractions for tourism may or may not fully recover. Most people were not insured for floods, jobs will be lost and many businesses won’t make it. Healing will take a long time.
Our book talks about compassion for our fellow man. Crisis and tragedy always bring out what is true about a person; mercy and help, anger and bitterness. We are viewed as a Christian community here in middle Tennessee. We are now living it out.
I think the quiet may be a form of respect, a certain type of subtle solitude as we get back to our lives. Solitude is where we hear well. We may be hearing something profound and true. We are indeed the body of our Lord. We are hands and feet, sweat and grief. We are hope, comfort and a shoulder that helps bear another’s burden. I think that is what Johnny and Donna are. My friend Ron spent all day yesterday helping one of the teachers from school that lost everything; he is one of those people, too.
For every picture of sadness and damage there may be 10,000 Johnnys, Donnas and Rons. Since national media was not interested in Nashville's little five hundred year event I am quite certain that they will have no interest in these stories. These are common stories of common people just doing right things. Hands, feet, encouragement and friends; this is the community that our book calls us to be. Laugh with those who laugh it says, and cry with those who cry.
There should be one more – hope with those who hope. We will do this in our community’s hospital rooms, at the YMCA and hopefully in our houses of worship. I am thankful to live where I live.