Saturday, June 26, 2010

BP Oil Spill; Biloxi MS

Biloxi MS
June 24, 2010


0530 hours

Nearly five years after our family offered The Humanist the chronicle of our experiences on the Mississippi Gulf Coast before, during and after hurricane Katrina as it took thousands of lives and devastated our community in an eviscerating dual attack of wind and water, I find myself again awake before the sun in our reconstructed den staring at a new computer screen depicting a satellite view of the Gulf of Mexico.

In my heart is the same mesmerized warning and ominous foreboding.

But, instead of an enormous ripping saw blade of direct destruction bearing down from the sky above, we now find ourselves in the path of a monstrous morass spreading its poisoned tendrils of decay and corruption from below.

Tortuous in its slow, methodical and wicked current emanating from a deep wound in the earth, this new death dealer of unbound spewing toxic oil would certainly not be finished with us in a day or two so that we could then have a reprieve to pick ourselves up, find our injured, bury our dead and rebuild.

Not this time, no matter the number of desperately pious proclamations from prayerful politicians offered to the wrathful gods of man to comfort the constituent flock who they probably assume can do little else. Besides, who would ever have the unmitigated gall to be critical of or assert that the fault for this disaster is firmly established in those god-fearing and humble servants of the Lord with dominion over the earth who wear nice suits, American flag lapel pins and who say that they dearly love Jesus like all real American men?

Meanwhile, in the real world of physical evidence, cause and effect, the dark plumes on the satellite imagery now bore map trajectories of the oil nearing our Biloxi shores within days. Combine this empirical fact with the knowledge that we are past the summer solstice and within the weather pattern of tropical storms (and worse) speaks volumes regarding the very real potential for this disaster to grow exponentially.

I sip my coffee, look around the shadowy room and become awash with déjà vu as my wife loads up the clipboard, paper, camera, cell phone and other supplies into her backpack, a wildlife and coast watcher volunteer badge clipped to her waist.

As she heads for the front door I pause to recognize something long forgotten. This is the same door that led us into the apocalypse of Katrina as powerful winds tore away the walls of our home around us.

I quietly ponder what world we would now be entering as we exited through this sturdy gateway for the Biloxi shoreline.

This morning was much calmer than yesterday's showers and churning breakers. Today the water was like a looking glass darkly mirroring the sky from the horizon. As we start walking west along the water line everything seemed normal in our encompassing silent reverie. We didn't make it far along the shore, though, before we began to detect the strong and familiar smell of death and decay. Looking around, we spotted what looked like a towel up on top of the sand berm and almost thought nothing of it until I went to take a closer look in the low light of early morning.

When I slowly began to discern the twisted feathery wing of a large bird, my heart sank. Once we got a closer look, it was obviously the decomposing body of a brown pelican.

In that quiet moment as we began to document the death, I began to recall my many experiences with these symbolic birds of our entire Gulf Coast.

In the 1980s, while taking what was basically a randomly selected elective college course, I unexpectedly found myself becoming deeply involved in a project that was much larger than striving for a vocational certificate or credit to fulfill a degree. Soon I was outside of the box of conventional rote education and traveling the coast and waterways to study the life cycle and real threats to our endangered brown pelican species.

To me, they are still the monitor that beckons us to recognize the condition of our natural world and our place within it as human beings.

A couple of decades later, the brown pelicans made a thriving return and, I’m personally proud to say, were removed from the endangered species list thanks to the intervention and proactive efforts of the same beings who threatened them in the first place.

That said, the deeper lesson learned from the plight of the pelicans is simple and can be applied to our human condition in every circumstance: It can be done.

But all of us have to be personally culpable and we must put all of the energy of our fine humanistic principles, morals and ethics into action and actually do it. They have been tested by experience and shown to produce the results we aspire to achieve in very real terms.

In moments like these it is completely impossible not to think about how to start putting things right again in spite of the enormity of the task.

But where do we start?

There is no real need for public outreach, education and awareness about the cause of this disaster. The irresponsibility of leaders, ambiguous and unapplied statutes, errant regulators and the egregious malice that comes from the greed of corporate market immorality bypassing our own human survival for the profit of shareholders is well known and on a global scale.

Some may choose to wait in the gallows of their own homes with their hands closed in the purported comfort of intercessory prayer as our very ancestral traditions, thriving sea life, cultural identity, pristine symbols and the very ecosystem that sustains us is choked off in toxic muck and assassinated before our very eyes.

In my continued view, however, our real hope still resides in the awareness that we, as a human family and community of people with assorted skills and life experiences can help through our participatory humane ideals, morals and inherent empathy.

We do so by caring for, cleaning and healing the survivors, by supporting volunteer efforts and by documenting the level of suffering for our future generations.

Most importantly, we can start to put thing right again by unifying our voices and demanding that the many obvious lessons are learned by those responsible for every single life destroyed, every mistake made and every intentional failure to expend the effort to take simple precautions to prevent such a calamity, and that they are identified and held accountable without ambiguity or subjective deniability.

So, this is where it all matters again my friends, at the nexus of the unfathomable and the profane with the power of our human family responsible for whatever will be the outcome.

We know where our hearts are drawn and we know many more of you will join us again in this task and that we will be in good company.

Steve Schlicht
Biloxi MS
[email protected]
The Great Southern Humanist Society

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