Perhaps that’s why Nashville has responded to the wreckage by urgently pitching in. All across this city, people are showing up to help friends and strangers. They are showing up with work gloves and chain saws and garbage bags and tarps. They are making casseroles by the dozens and sandwiches by the hundreds. They are making repeat trips to big-box stores for flashlights and batteries and blankets and nonperishable food and baby formula and diapers and tampons and hand wipes and over-the-counter medicines, and then they are giving it all away.
Some of this is happening through the expert efforts of existing community organizations like Hands On Nashville, Gideon’s Army, the Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee and the Community Resource Center Nashville. Some of it is happening organically, by word of mouth (or word of media), as people hear from somebody who knows somebody who needs help. Some of it is happening because people keep just showing up and looking around for an opportunity to help — so, so many people that it can sometimes become a problem for power crews with heavy equipment trying to get through.
And what would Music City be without a benefit concert or 10? Or a plan to help get musicians themselves back on their feet? People who can’t help in person are donating to the Middle Tennessee Emergency Response Fund or GoFundMe campaigns that now routinely top their target goals. All by herself, Taylor Swift gave $1 million to tornado relief.
None of this is surprising. This is what Southerners, what all rural communities, are famous for. The response to Middle Tennessee’s tornadoes is simply a barn-raising in the city, the death-in-the-family casserole and the Sunday second collection writ large. Like all emotional states, compassion is infectious.
The day after the tornadoes, I was texting with a friend of mine who moved to Middle Tennessee from Bay St. Louis, Miss. Her family had made it through Hurricane Katrina, a calamity that happened on a far larger scale, but making comparisons wasn’t what was on her mind. “Louis and I now talk about the ‘private Katrina’ our friends might have: cancer, death of a child, you name it. One day the sun is shining and all is intact, the next day everything is broken. And the rest of the world goes on. You’re trapped in your own crazy snow globe that’s been shaken so hard all the pieces fly loose.”
This is a truth we all instinctively recognize. That random funnel cloud of death and destruction could have happened anywhere — it could come for any of us any time. And while we understand that we have not been singled out by God for survival, we also understand that we can be God’s hands here in the rubble, helping our neighbors dig out.
Margaret Renkl is a contributing opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South. She is the author of the book “Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss.”
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