When we packed for the beach, we didn’t know whether to take our swimsuits or our hazmat suits. We tracked ocean currents on the web, watched the news and called Gulf Coast locals to see if we should even come. I remembered years ago how I found globs of oil stuck to my feet after walking sands along the Mediterranean at Alexandria and then later walking along the Atlantic at West Palm Beach. But this was more than an oil barge leaking a bit, this was the black tide of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. The currents were moving the mass of oil toward Mississippi, Alabama, and our Florida beaches. Even the Everglades were at stake.

The explosion had already claimed the life of my friend’s cousin and his fellow workers on the rig, and the crude oil let loose in the waters was oiling bird feathers, covering pelicans in tar, poisoning sea mammals, and killing coral. My conservationist heart fired like the oil burning out at sea. I felt how “the world is rumbling and erupting in ever-widening circles around us. The tensions, conflicts and sufferings even in the outermost circle touch us all, reverberate in all of us. We cannot avoid these vibrations.” The earth was bleeding with no styptic to be found. Eighty-seven days the oil would gush. Five million barrels. I watched more coverage and flooded over, angry, helpless.

We went for it, traveled toward disaster. We took the scenic route through southern byways. There were wells in front yards, half-naked toddlers walking barefoot over dirt-lawns, yellow ribbons on weathered posts, cotton fields picked empty, and then in all the squalor, a teenager with a laptop sitting on the porch of a shack. Was he entertaining himself to forget his poverty or was he searching out the bigger catastrophes of the world to dwarf his own, living out Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s view that “because we cannot solve our own problems right here at home, we talk about problems out there in the world”?

I thought about the various types of need I see through the window of my laptop, the child with cancer that I cry over, the pastor who is jailed in Iran, women being trafficked in my own country. I want to give my heart to these issues and more, but at times it all floods over me like the oil I watched on the screen. I have felt it that “modern communication loads us with more problems than the human frame can carry.” And driving through this byway at 60 miles per hour, I felt it again, that I could not carry these burdens or lift these people up from poverty.

But somehow, with them being just yards away from me, their actual selves, not a snapshot or an avatar, their sticky air coming through my rolled down windows, I got a sense of each as an individual. In all the distressed Americana, I noted “the particular uniqueness of each member of the [human] family, the spontaneity of now; the vividness of here…..the drops that make up the stream.”

Out at sea, beyond my sight, crews skimmed oil, burned oil, placed booms around islands and coasts. It wouldn’t be enough, but it was what they knew to do. They put in elbow grease working in their own area of expertise…and alongside came a surprise something like the glitter in the Andaman Sea, hidden helpers that would eliminate some twenty to forty percent of the oil. When each member of creation does its part, acts in its own circle of influence, opens itself to the need of the moment…catastrophe shrinks.

We wound along the road and passed a country church anchored in an unkempt grove. I prayed they were doing what I couldn’t, leading these people to “some of the joy in the now, some of the peace in the here, some of the love in me and thee which go to make up the kingdom of heaven on earth.”

When we finally rolled into our destination, we got right to the beach. We looked for signs of the oil slick, but all we saw was powdery sand and emerald water. I didn’t know what the future held for the place, but we let its present beauty “expand into a golden eternity of here and now.” We ran in it, rolled in it, built with it…and threw it in the air like confetti. The “sand [slipped] softly under my feet” and I took in the beauty, yet unspoiled.

{This week’s post is based on the final chapter in Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea…Chapter 8, “The Beach at My Back”. View all entries in the series here.}


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