May 6, 2010
THIS IS TENNESSEE
VOLUNTEERS ADD NEW CHAPTER TO STORIED HISTORY
by Brent High
On May 1st and 2nd of 2010 a historic amount of rain, as much as 17 inches, fell on middle Tennessee and the city of Nashville in less than 48 hours. Historians are using terms like “thousand year flood” to describe what took place here. The Cumberland River, Nashville’s main waterway, crested at just over 51 feet, flooding iconic structures including the Grand Ole Opry, LP Field and Bridgestone Arena where the Tennessee Titans and Nashville Predators play, Country Music Hall of Fame and the Opryland Hotel and Convention Center. The water rose so much, so fast and in places water has never been seen that thousands had to be rescued by boat. Dozens lost their lives. Thousands of homeowners lost everything they had. Thousands more are now trying to salvage what’s left. Most had no flood insurance because before May 1st they didn’t need it where they lived. Early estimates are that the damage will top $1 billion and this storm will go down as the most devastating non-hurricane event in American history.
This is Tennessee.
It’s Monday, May 3rd. The rain has stopped, finally. What happens next shouldn’t come as a surprise. Almost instinctively, after a long night of restlessness, volunteers spring into action. It’s in their blood. They’ve been trained to do so by their parents and grandparents. From Waverly to Cookeville, Winchester to Cross Plains and in the capital city of Nashville the sights and sounds are the same.
Without being asked, fishermen launch their boats into the muddy soup, joining the rescue efforts. Business owners and supervisors tell their employees to take the day off and jump in and help wherever they can. Neighbors, many of whom helped empty entire houses in brigade fashion the night before, transition into cleanup mode. Sump pumps and generators whirr. Drywall, carpet and ruined floors are ripped out. Elderly ladies gather at the church to make lunches for workers. Teenagers distribute bottled water. Pickup trucks, trailers and storage units are loaded with what could be salvaged. Photos and documents are spread out in the sun to dry. Wads of $20 bills are slid into pockets of those affected. Checks are written. Hugs are given. Prayers are said. Tears are shed.
This is Tennessee.
Almost 200 years ago Tennessee first earned the nickname “Volunteer State.” In 1812 More than 2,000 Tennesseans volunteered to fight for Andrew Jackson and were the main part of Jackson’s army that destroyed the British three years later in the Battle of New Orleans. A generation later the U. S. Secretary of War asked Tennessee for 2,800 soldiers to fight a war against Mexico. 30,000 volunteered.
This is a state where faith comes first. We don’t ask why. We know there is a reason and look forward to it being revealed. We are guided by scriptures such as Philippians 2:3-5 which says:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus.”
Family is a focus, not an afterthought. Don’t bother trying to do business with us the week of Christmas or July 4th. We’ll be with family. When our kids have a school play we will be there. We throw big birthday parties. We teach our kids right from wrong and aren’t afraid to give them a whippin’ when they need it.
Here we say “Yes ma’am” and “No ma’am.” We try to leave a place better than we found it. We put our hand over our heart when the national anthem is played. We pull over on the side of the road when funeral processions pass on the other side.
We are savvy business people. We are farmers. We are teachers.
We drink Coke here. We like gravy with our biscuits and potatoes.
We are serious about our sports. We keep score in little league and we still have all-star teams and MVP trophies.
We are givers.
You won’t hear us wailing about where the federal government and insurance companies were in all of this. We’ll get by just fine without them.
Right now we have a lot to deal with here in our backyard. We will handle it with dignity and class. We will sacrifice for each other in ways that are unfathomable to most. We will stand together. We will stand tall. We will come out of this stronger than we were before it.
One day in the not too distant future a hurricane, tornado, fire, flood or other unspeakable disaster will strike your community. As you struggle to put the pieces back together we will be there.
We will volunteer.
We are Tennesseans.
This is Tennessee.
Brent High, 36, is a lifelong Tennessean from Nashville. He serves as Assistant Director of Athletics for External Affairs at Lipscomb University .