If you live in Louisiana, or any part of your heart is here, it is probably breaking right now, as we watch videos of oily muck spewing into the Gulf of Mexico from a broken well a mile below the surface, a few miles off our coast. Our wetlands and pelican habitats and beaches and oyster beds are all in grave danger. BP, the oil company, is stunned by this disaster, and experimenting with a “top kill” technique never tested at this depth, hoping to seal the well. Its prognosis is unknown. Emotions are intense right now, and they are hard to sort out.
Take your pick: anxiety, depression, outrage, numbness, disbelief, a sense of cosmic unfairness that a state still wobbling from the lingering effects of hurricane Katrina could be in peril once again. There will be plenty of time for recriminations and hard questions, and it may be therapeutic for all of us to start finding the words. This disaster is an act of humans. What makes it ok to drill in a place you don’t know how to protect, in case of a blowout? What is an acceptable level of risk, and who has a voice? What makes it ok to ignore the warning signs observed by workers on the rig? How does that provocative political slogan “drill baby drill” taste now? Politics are ephemeral, and the effects of the oil spill on Louisiana’s way of life may be forever.
“Oops” will not be enough. When exposed to great and immeasurable harm, there will have to be a reckoning, and a long, slow process of healing, both for the Gulf and for the spirit. But first, they must plug the leaking well. The technical means to do this is mostly in the hands of BP, the oil company that did this, and we must wish them very well in their experiment, now in progress. The generosity of spirit this requires is hard to fathom. We are holding our breath, desperately hoping for this experiment to succeed, or if not, the next one.
It is far too soon to focus on emotional trauma, though that time will come; now we have the fate of pelicans and shrimp boats and Louisiana seafood and marshes and coastal communities to consider. It is in bonding together as a larger community that we sustain our mental health in the meantime, and in reminding those who frame this event only in economic or technical terms, that we are deeply interdependent after all. We will need new rules for sharing the Gulf, when this drama is finally over, and a new way of being a global community.