Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Where are You?

Dear President Obama and First Lady,

I am writing to you today on behalf of the greater Nashville/Franklin community and our recent flood disaster.

First, let me say thank you to President Obama for providing federal assistance through FEMA. This flood adversely affected so many thousands of people and so many were without flood insurance.

I don't know a family that was not touched in some way by the disaster either first hand, through a relative, a neighbor or a friend. The flood did not discriminate in its dissemination and destruction. People on all income levels, in all parts of our city have been left without homes and with their belongings and water-soaked remnants of their lives piled high along neighborhood streets.

My 78 y/o mother-in-law lost the whole first floor of her home. I, like so many others, have been working tirelessly to gut the homes of our loved ones. Strangers and friends alike have helped with these efforts, and it is no small task. Men, women and children working shoulder to shoulder helping to carry each other's burdens is a scene throughout thousands of homes across our great city and state.

While Nashville and some of our surrounding communities have had an influx of volunteers from neighboring states, help from the Red Cross and United Way as well as the presence of FEMA, I must say that there is a feeling of abandonment amongst our community by the federal government and the media.

We are living in a catastrophe. The scenes take my breath away. We have suffered a national disaster of magnificent proportions. You may have seen our flooded city on television, but you have not witnessed the mountains of our friend's shredded possessions, splintered furniture, muddied photographs, memories and lives piled high along our suburban streets. You have not witnessed the volunteer spirit reigning across our cities and towns from one end of the state to the other. You have not witnessed our suffering or our efforts to put our friends, family and strangers back on their feet.

No one can witness an event on television. It's impossible to witness destruction through an email or photos on a Face Book page. The newspaper can do no justice to the peril we have befallen. No letter to Anderson Cooper, no tweet to Oprah and no op ed in the New York Times can communicate the human experience. It is impossible.

True compassion comes through touching, seeing, hugging, holding and loving our fellow men, women and children. Compassion does not come through the pronouncement of our area as a national disaster. If anything, declaring 27 of our 95 counties a national disaster is warrant enough for a visit to see the hurting, to show the support of our government, to acknowledge that we are not alone in our suffering and in our efforts.

Whether or not your administration chooses to visit our great state is, obviously, not for me to decide, but I do feel it my duty to express to you that I, a native Nashvillian, feel let down. This is not a political plea. This is not a partisan ploy. Simply said: there is honor in seeing your president and first lady walk through your streets, shake the hands of the hurting... validating our state as important in the eyes of our federal government and in the eyes of our nation. It's not too much to ask. It's not too much to expect. In fact, it's not too late.

Neglecting a visit to the Volunteer State, forgoing a walk through our debris strewn suburban streets, and missing this moment in the history of our nation would be a shame. Come visit Tennessee. Witness our destruction; be moved by our ability to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps; affirm our children who have given as much of themselves as any adult. Attest to the strength, honor and valor of the next generation.

You are missing so much. Will Tennessee be okay if you don't come? Of course, our cities, towns and countryside will blossom again, the mud-ridden landscapes will wash clean, homes will be rebuilt, and lives will get back on track. We will bounce back and be stronger because of our sufferings. We will love better, prioritize differently, live life more fully and stand solid in community.

You, however, as President and First Lady will have missed out. There will be no Tennessee national disaster history in your term, only a record of disaster declaration. There is nothing personal in making an announcement. There is no personal story for your children or your grandchildren. There is only a 30 minute spot and a few media mentions on our 500 year flood. I doubt that will be enough for the history books.

Be that as it may, Tennessee will forge upward and onward, standing proud as The Volunteer State and carrying with it our own history as told by those who witnessed and experienced our national disaster and our private recovery. We are Nashville. We are Tennessee.