Disasters aren’t just epic, they are also a collection of very personal tragedies

pictures drying from flood

Part One

Yesterday, I wrote about how the Boston Globe’s “Big Picture Blog” was the first medium I’ve seen that conveyed the epic proportions of the Nashville Flood.

But floods, like all natural disasters, are most tragic at the small and personal level, rather than at what economists would call, the “macro” level.

The photo on the left shows just some of the 2,000+ “little pictures” that are spread across the floors of rooms throughout my house today. They belong to close friends of mine who are dealing with the aftermath of water flooding the first floor of their home — one of the several thousands of families in Nashville and a wide swath of Tennessee who are drying out, or throwing out, the water-soaked “stuff” of their lives.

My wife and I spent a couple of hours last night carefully separating the individual “little pictures” that were in stacks about to turn into paper bricks.* While my “inner-photographer” didn’t see any great photography among the pictures we were trying to save, I saw countless, priceless memories of two decades of birthday parties and vacations and Christmas trees that could have been lost.

In no way, do I compare the loss of “stuff” with the tragic drownings of ten people in Nashville and many other drownings in the region. I can’t imagine the torment their loved ones are experiencing.

However, I just wanted to note that major disasters touch people in many small, yet personal, ways — not just epic ways.

Part Two

As I was collecting my thoughts for this post, this AP story about the flooding of a 160,000 square foot facility called Soundcheck Nashville appeared in my RSS newsreader. When I got the following sentence, I had to stop reading — I couldn’t go on:

“Friends say Vince Gill may have lost most of his entire guitar collection, including irreplaceable vintage pieces with historic value.”

Other than his wife, Amy Grant, I can’t think of another person in the music business who has given back so much to Nashville over the years than Vince Gill. I can’t begin to list the things he’s done or the people he’s helped.

But when I read the article, my mind flashed back to the only conversation I’ve ever had with Gill — one at the baggage claim area of the Nashville Airport. While we were waiting for our bags (he was waiting for some guitars), I told him that my son (who was probably 14 or so at the time) played the mandolin and that we’d seen Vince play his at a summer bluegrass series at the Ryman a few weeks earlier. When he learned that I live a few blocks away from him, Gill said, “Get your son to come over to the house and I’ll let him play my Loar — it’s an instrument I’ve always wanted, and I recently found one. I can play guitar with him — I’m a pretty good picker.” When he said that last part, he had that eye-twinkle and patented Vince Gill grin that let me know I didn’t have to explain I recognized the humor of his humility.

To someone familiar with the F-style mandolin used by bluegrass musicians, hearing the name “Loar” is like hearing the name “Stradivarius.” There’s even an online archive that catalogs each known Loar. (Sidenote: Stradivarius also made mandolins — just not the right kind.)

For some “yeah, right” reason, I never could get my son to stroll over and knock on Gill’s door and say, “My dad said he ran into you once at an airport and while you were trying to get rid of his stalker-like intrusions on your space, you told him you’d let me see your priceless Lloyd Loar mandolin and maybe we could jam ‘Swinging on a Gate.'” (Note: Bluegrass instrumental standards typically have names like that.)

When I read that AP article, I decided there is no way Gill’s Loar could have been among the instruments in the collection that was flooded. Not that I have any information that let’s me know one way or another. I’ve just decided to not even consider it a possibility.

*I’ll save my “get your photos digitized” sermon for another day.