Most of Nashville is struggling to remember how things looked. When flood waters rise quicker and taller than you ever thought possible and just sit until the water table rebalances, you begin to lose sight of what a city used to look like.
But Nashville is a city of hope, so many people are working hard not only to restore places to what they used to look like, but to also cast a vision of how things are going to be. The Opry stage won't be covered in water for long and Carrie will sing there and Brad will play there again. LP Field will drain and be cleaned and once again we'll all watch CJ break a long run in the fourth quarter to seal a victory.
This is the comfort and security a skyline and a landmark can offer. A sense of familiarity. A reference point. Something to remind you how things were and what they will be.
But a house is different. Homes change and people age. The memories we make in one stick with us and bury themselves in our hearts and brains more deeply than twin spires on a skyscraper or concrete arches on a bridge. Drywall in our den is different than drywall in a museum. Waterlogged carpet in our bedroom means more than wet carpet in a restaurant.
So while the news is finally showing this:
Lots of people are seeing this:
Little girls lost stuffed animals and first CDs and the figurine that grandma gave them last year. Teenagers lost Wiis and skateboards and shoes. Families lost couches and photos and stuff people gave them for their wedding. As they drag ruins into their front yard and punch holes in walls to let them dry out, they look around and to even try and remember what it all used to look like is heart breaking. You want to remember when everything was dry and you held a barbecue for Memorial Day last year and everyone laughed at the sight of children running after each other in the yard playing tag. But you don't have time. Even with the help of all those volunteers willing to remove siding and rip up floors, you keep working because the memory of how things were gets in the way of you trying to build the vision of how things will be.
Insulation and vacuum cleaners sit on driveways meant for dribbling basketballs and where children skin knees and scrape chins when they fall of bikes. Appliances and bedding sit next to mailboxes waiting for the calvary of garbage trucks to come through the neighborhood this weekend or next and clear yards to restore a sense of normalcy.
But caravans of trucks and trash on lawns isn't normal. And it doesn't get you back to how things were. Removing debris only gets you an empty yard to go with your empty, moldy house. And it will never be the same.
Personal landmarks give us our bearings. They serve as our constant in a world of air travel, long commutes, and international news. No matter where we go, we can always come back to a city, a community, and a building that we claim as home. But when home doesn't look like home you feel ungrounded, floating in a murky river of uncertainty, waiting for the chaos to recede.
This city isn't short on dreamers. Countless bright-eyed singers move here every day. And now, as an entire region begins to rebuild and hope for a way that things can be, dreams look like bloody hands and sweaty necks as people help neighbors and strangers wade through sludge and grime. That's how things look like now, both downtown and down your street.
But they won't always. That's where you grilled out last summer, and you'll grill there again. That's where you chased your brother and ran so fast that the rush of air when you stopped to catch your breath nearly knocked you over. Third base (the old tree in the middle of the backyard) may be gone, uprooted by loose, wet ground, but we'll plant another one so you can play baseball in the yard behind your home. Your home.
It looks different, but it's still there. You used to see it one way, and it looks different now. And very soon, it will look different again. And when you look at your new bedroom or your new kitchen, you'll remember both how it used to look and how it used to look again. You'll never unsee how it was, and you'll never unsee how it is today.
But you will eventually begin to see how it will look, once the trash is gone and what can be saved is dry, when dad fires up the grill and mom looks over your homework at a different kitchen table. This was your home. It is your home. And it will be your home.