Blue. Green. Brown.

Bold blue. Bright green. and brown. This is the landscape that is now Nashville and the surrounding areas. As I drove down River Road today toward Ashland City, I was struck by the contrast of these three colors. The boldest blue sky a week after the rain began. The brightest green leaves on trees because of the rain. And then the brown. Waters raged in this area May 1 and 2 leaving a muddy brown carpet of destruction.

As thousands of Middle Tennesseans embarked out today with water, brooms, trash bags, trucks, gloves and rainboots for the Great Cleanup, so did I. I ventured to a home that had been underwater hip deep. Most everything was thrown away today. A few things saved were high on shelves or they are going to try to save. The couple was in good spirits and grateful for the team that came to help. There were some moments like emptying out a curio cabinet with collectors dolls, including her first Barbie (looked like a 1960’s version) and a very old Pooh bear. One of my favorite moments was when she found a jeweled tiara from her jewelry box and wore it the rest of the day. And she should have. The husband is an artist (mostly paintings) and his studio was in the basement. Was. The basement was completely underwater and everything was ruined. All those years of supplies, paintings in storage and in progress. Gone. He caught me taking photos at the end of the day and said, “Destruction as art” and smiled. I smiled back.

I work for United Way of Metropolitan Nashville and we have been in a “command center” off site since we were evacuated from our offices. They are dry but in a part of Nashville (Metro Center) that is basically a bowl beside the flooding river. While I have been furiously trying to set up what we need to help people in a macro level, many volunteers in Nashville were already on the ground doing the heavy lifting, literally. I have to say, maybe selfishly, it was good for me to get on the ground today. I needed some perspective. I needed to smell the mud, sweep water off the floor, hug those who have lost, and wrap up precious items to save. These sincere hours today grounded me and can fuel the hard work we have ahead to restore the city. I hope to get out again soon to continue helping this couple and others get back on their feet.

I thought of the thousands of volunteers around the city today doing the same thing — helping people they know and don’t know. Helping neighbors. There are two levels of help after a disaster I have come to learn. BIG help (i.e. United Way, Salvation Army, American Red Cross, Second Harvest Food Bank, Hands on Nashville, etc.) and the grass roots, neighbor to neighbor help (i.e. Nashvillest, Erika Chambers, DonateNashville, CoolPeopleCare, We Are Nashville/Section303, etc.).

I am proud to be in Nashville. I know that the colors will return to mostly blue and green soon. Keep at it. Give. Advocate for those forgotten. Volunteer.