Where’s the Rainbow?
Weather is a tangible thing: we can feel it, and, depending on the day, it can feel a dozen different ways: sticky, hot, cold, wet, promising, foreboding. If I’d ever experienced a day that just felt foreboding, it was yesterday morning. I stepped outside around noon Sunday and my world was covered in rain, as it had been constantly for the past day and a half. Over the weekend, we’d found ourselves trapped on a road that was closed at both ends, I’d seen my porch get completely covered in water and, across the road from me where a grassy field lay two days before, there was a new lake. I saw a Publix half submerged in water and half dozen terrible images from the news, made all the more frightening because the images were of places I regularly visited. Charlotte Avenue? I was there, Saturday morning, looking for a dog. By Saturday night, it was covered. Bell Road? That’s two minutes from my house. The portable classroom that ended up floating down Bell? That came from Lighthouse Christian Academy, a school I’d attended. Opryland Hotel defines for me Nashville. One of the pastors of my church found his home nearly flooded and the basements of several of my friends were gutted. And, today, the Harpeth downtown continues to rise.
Tears sprung to my eyes unexpectedly about four times yesterday, once around noon when I walked outside to see the world a stark gray. The day was void of birds chirping, squirrels racing, deer rummaging, lawn mowers at work, children laughing a the playground. Instead, it was just wet. And dark. And ugly. I was very saddened. I was okay. My family was okay. My porch was going to be okay. But, I love this city. I always have. As a child, whenever my nomadic family moved, I’d petition my parents to return as soon as possible. I practically begged to spend my Senior year of high school here. And seeing it hurt, its people ravaged by disaster, made me very sad. The news warned the rain would continue throughout the night and, as I felt an angry rush of cold wind hit me, I had never wished for a rainbow as strongly.
But, as I stood feeling helpless, I looked out and saw a rain puddle. It dawned on me: a truth I’ve only realized since being a mother: happiness is always within my grasp: I just have to accept it. I bought a determined, optimistic smile to my face and the girls and I chose not to waste the rain. We jumped in it, sang and danced in it, caught raindrops on our tongues. When we warmed back up, finally, I was happier, my heart lighter….except the nagging concern I had for some emotionally significant friends I’d not heard from yet. So I got online, to Facebook, naturally, to see if I could discern their safety statuses.
I expected the majority of the status updates to be about the death tolls, how high the water was at such and such a place, and how awful the devastation, how sad it was. I expected this because it was the truth. I was in for a surprise. What I actually found, via the emails and status updates, was very different. Things like, “and it comes down again!”, “I’m thinking of building a rather large boat”, “That thar’s good fishing on that busy street”, “My basement is flooded…awesome!” and “I foresee a relief party in my future” greeted me instead of the terribly sad news that could have. Later, I saw normal posts like “Dude, I’m going to kill my brother!” and “School’s closed — YESSS!!!” and “I married a big baby.” Miraculously, I find myself smiling, and my heart further lightened.
I am so proud of my city.
You see, it dawned on me then. It might not have been in the sky just then but the rainbow was already present. The promise of redemption was as evident to me as the rain in the determined optimism I sensed in the people of my city. I thought of how, when Joe and I got trapped by the rain on some random road I don’t think either of us had been down very often, we stopped to eat at the first place we saw: Las Palmas. The people there were laughing. Joe joked, “The car might be our hotel tonight” (I think he would have actually enjoyed that!) to which I sternly responded, “I am NOT sleeping in this” which caused a stranger to laugh.
A news anchor got trapped in a community which was closed yesterday and a woman went into labor. The paramedics were unable to reach her so a neighborhood e-mail was sent out and, in a community that was under siege, deluged by flood, two pediatricians, a Nurse Practicter and two ordinary citizens walked to her house and helped deliver a healthy, 8 pound baby girl. Video was shown of a cat rescue; people expressed sympathy for a bunch of cows trapped on a small piece of ground. Boats were seen pulling people from stranded cars to safety. The news’ tagline was always the same: “it’s history in the making.” Perhaps it was the first time in history that our city had been flooded like this but our people have always been the same.
I was looking heavenward for a physical rainbow when I remembered that nearly all the time, it is through people that God creates the most beautiful rainbows of all. I was reminded of how many times, both in the news in attacks such as Hurricane Katrina and September 11 (as well as others), miracles arise out of the worst situations. Maybe you’ve already heard of or witnessed miracles resulting from this flood. If not, I’m sure you will. Miracles born of a resilient and optimistic people.
First thing this morning, our church organized and led a relief team, and will be doing so every day this week. Countless other relief teams have been organized as well. These teams give us an opportunity: we can allow ourselves to freeze behind a wall of fear and shock or we can create the most tender chapter in this story and fill it with inspiring and hopeful stories of compassion, empathy and a willingness to care. Actually, this beautiful chapter in our city’s story is already being written: we started writing it in the midst of the storm and we will continue until the clean up and restoration is complete, despite however many negative reports or statistics we may hear. I know it. I know it because I know our people, and I know God.
The blessings of just about every single person in the Bible came after great hardships. There is a reason for this, it’s not just accidental. Maybe it’s because hardships not only build our strength and character but, more importantly, they demonstrate our strength and character to ourselves. how many of us are in the midst of a terrible bout of depression, a depression that makes doing anything but watching TV seem impossible? But then, when something like this happens, how many of those same, depressed people say, “What? You want me to give you some food? Okay, I can do that” or “You want me to check on members of our church? Okay, I can make those calls.” Step by step, small act by small act, we reach out only to turn around and say, “Hey. I’m not helpless. Hey, I am important. Hey. I am needed here.” Soon, volunteering becomes a pleasure, an honor. And then we witness stories of tenderness, of triumph over pain and when we reach out to comfort the bereaved, we find that we, too, have been comforted. We suddenly recognize the fraility of life and we begin to actively protect it.
Today, the day after the rain, I have not seen an actual rainbow. Honestly, I haven’t really looked up for one. It’s not that I doubt there is one: I’m sure I’ll soon be seeing all sorts of beautiful pictures of rainbows over Nashville. No, I haven’t particularly looked because I don’t need one. I already know that God’s promise to stay with us and to lead us across bridges and flooded ground we don’t want to cross is because, in the midst of the voyage, there are important growths, and miracles, whose emotional impact in our lives we wouldn’t find without the tragedy.
There are many a people whose lives will be forever different as as result of this flood, many people hurting. But by reaching out a hand, we offer a piece of the rainbow, of the promise, to another person who can then offer it to someone else until, one day, we’ll look up and see the most beautiful rainbow covering our city, spreading its warmth and joy to each of us. Sometimes it feels cruel to say something, write something, post something that isn’t about the tragedy right now. It may seem that the writer, or the speaker, doesn’t care. In reality, though, the evidence that life really does go on as normal speaks to the our strength as a city, as a community, as individual people. Instead of allowing it to paralyze us, we are bouncing back, reaching out, reacting with humor and grace and compassion to a terrible disaster. Reacting with these traits: humor, grace and compassion, shows us how strong and how united we really are. Furthermore, the spirit of optimism and volunteerism that has defined our state for generations will show each of us in personal ways that there is something special, something comforting, something genuine about us.
We will be reminded, also, each day, by the stories of the flood’s miracles, that we are not alone, God is beside us, holding our hands. He has put each of us exactly where we are for a reason, a personal and unique purpose that only we can fulfill. Perhaps this flood is the time that we are supposed to fulfill our purpose. Life does goes on. It goes on because we choose to let it. It goes on because, just when we can’t walk anymore, someone picks us up or reaches out a hand. It goes on because we look to God and see the greater, bigger picture. It goes on because we recognize that the promise of restoration begins with us.
One day soon, downtown Nashville will be restored. Bellevue and Opryland, Smyrna and Antioch will be restored. While it rained, my daughter asked me where the sun went when it rained. I replied by saying it was hiding, behind the clouds—much as a lot of us hid inside our dry homes. Well, the sun isn’t hiding anymore. I see it shining on the tree in my front yard right now. We’re not hiding anymore either. The world is no longer gray, with heavy storms, but bright with fewer clouds and a healing, bright sun inviting us to get out and play in it, work in it, live in it. We can feel it warming our faces as we confront the damage. Birds are chirping again. Cars are moving. Water is receding. Peace, prosperity and health will land softly among us again.
Because of God.
Because we’re strong.
Because we’re compassionate.
Because we’re volunteers who care.
Because we’re the rainbow, and have been reminded that we’re capable and not alone.
Because we’re residents of Middle Tennessee and that, in and of itself, is cause for the hope inherent in the continued reaction of united optimism.