Recovery is in the eye of the beholder
by Jennifer Cohron
Jun 24, 2012 | 1367 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jennifer Cohron
Jennifer Cohron
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I wasn’t sure what to expect when my boss sent me to a workshop in Birmingham last week called “Designing After Disaster.”

My assignment was to cover local speakers Beth Stukes and Paul Kennedy. I was also looking forward to hearing Greensburg, Kansas Mayor Bob Dixon’s presentation.

Honestly, I figured I would zone out for the rest of the sessions.

Instead, I found myself fascinated by how communities affected by the same tornadoes on April 27 could be on roads to recovery that are simultaneously parallel and unique.

Because everyone had experienced the same devastation, there was an unspoken shorthand in the room.

Although Dixon apologized for choking up while showing slides of his neighborhood from before an EF5 leveled it in 2007, there was really no need. We all have pictures of our respective hometowns that we can’t look at without stirring up painful memories.

And when one planning official made a joke about CAVE people, several audience members nodded to signify that Citizens Against Virtually Everything lived within their city limits as well.

No one happened to mention if it was possible to convert a CAVE person, but I found Dixon’s explanation for their existence interesting.

He said that a disaster magnifies where you stand in life.

People who have a generally good attitude will bounce back after being knocked down. People who are always angry will use the situation as an excuse to become even more bitter and spew their venom upon everyone they encounter.

Dixon’s advice to those on the verge of losing hope in a brighter tomorrow was to celebrate even the smallest successes in the recovery process.

Of course, defining words like “success” and “recovery” is easier said than done.

It’s human nature to expect progress to be visible. As one official pointed out, the debris removal process fulfilled that need in the first few months after the disaster.

As much as it hurt to wake up every day to a new hole where a home, business or other building used to be, at least we could point to the absence of rubble as a sign that things were changing for the better.

Then the long-term phase of recovery began, and our collective demand for normalcy to be restored yesterday was denied by hurdles both physical and abstract, natural and manmade.

As months passed without any tangible milestones to celebrate, a lot of people grew frustrated and some checked out of the process completely.

I recall last summer as an exciting time as design professionals from Auburn University’s Urban Studio came to town to develop a roadmap for recovery.

At the vision meeting held at the high school in July, anything seemed possible. By the fall, all I saw in the draft of the future Cordova was a pretty picture.

When I looked at the plans during the design workshop last Tuesday, I realized that the truth is somewhere in between.

Long-term recovery doesn’t look how any of us thought it would, but it’s possible to catch glimpses of it.

It’s people my age engaging in local affairs.

It’s “river rats” taking over the Dora Piggly Wiggly.

It’s a Little League game at the new park.

It’s the grand opening of Jeff and Von’s Place.

It’s the construction of Long Memorial United Methodist Church.

And it’s coming together with people we may not necessarily like to develop a vision for where we want to go as a Blue Devil family and believing against all evidence to the contrary that someday we’ll get there.