Still I Rise: The Recovery Of Ellicott City
“Hope rises like a phoenix from the ashes of a shattered dream.”
– S.A. Sachs
Perhaps it is no coincidence that the watering hole on the corner of Maryland and Main streets in downtown Ellicott City is named “The Phoenix.” Struck hard by the flood in the last days of July, 2016, the town has already begun – through the efforts of emergency personnel, shop owners, residents and volunteers – to recover from last week’s devastation.
I am a psychiatrist with a practice in Columbia, Maryland and, with my wife and three daughters, have lived or worked in Howard County for 35 years. More than any other area we have called home – Savage, Columbia, Glenwood – Ellicott City has offered us a sense of place. This is a community that was built upon -- and has, for almost 250 years, been rooted in -- the rhythms of the river.
As we were reminded just last week, our lives are no less affected by this river than were the lives of the Ellicott brothers and their families and their workers so many years ago.
The rocky hills, the forests, the water – these are the elements that have shaped the heart and soul, the commerce and community of this town. We are drawn -- like our forebears -- by the timeless beauty of this setting. For those of us living and working here, we are joined together by a sense that the river connects us to something deep and eternal. We have built our homes, our hopes and our livelihoods nestled close to its banks. As our hearts have been filled with the numerous blessings it has bestowed upon us, we have found meaning for our lives and solace for our pain in its embrace.
The other day, as my wife and I looked at the graveyard of cars downstream from Main Street after the enormous flood, as we thought of the homes, the shops and the lives lost just last week, she commented “And this is the river we love.” There is no easy way to make sense of what was taken from all of us last Saturday. Some have suffered far more than others, and we all ache with a communal sense of loss for our shared home.
Because we believe in what had been built by generations before us, because we have – with our hearts and hands and hard work – shown our deep commitment to the stewardship of this town -- Ellicott City will return – it is returning.
Someday soon, we will gather in its streets and cheer the rebirth of the town we love. But even as we struggle to move beyond heartbreak, we must take time to express the longing and pain, the anger and fear that fills our souls.
To heal, we must speak not only of our dreams for what is to come, but our grief at what has been lost. Let us not simply put behind us what has occurred, but give voice to what we feel now, in this moment, as we contemplate, like so many before us, what the river has given and what the river has taken away.
As always, the urge to renew, to create, to heal that lies deep within the human soul has arisen, and the cleansing and rebuilding that marks a new beginning for Ellicott City has emerged full force. As Maya Angelou wrote in a different context, "Still I rise."
In this time of renewed possibility, of hope and determination, let us draw on the sources of inspiration that give us the courage to move on: Our hunger for possibility and community that first drew us here. Our resilience to endure even the pain of a lifetime of dreams senselessly ripped away in an instant. And, perhaps most importantly -- despite the struggles ahead – our deep and powerfully resonant longing to stay, to rise from the mud and muck and build again our shining city in the hills.
“As the legend goes, when the Phoenix resurrects from the flames, she is even more beautiful than before.”
-- Danielle LaPorte