Please Don't Be Offended: This Is How We Get Through Disasters in the South
Driving along the Gulf Coast this morning, the oil spill never far from mind, Coldplay’s “Trouble” came on the radio. BP should license that song for their earnest apology ads.
"Oh no, I see,
A spider web is tangled up with me,
And I lost my head,
The thought of all the stupid things I'd said.
Oh no, what's this?
A spider web, and I'm caught in the middle,
So I turn to run,
The thought of all the stupid things I've done."
Complete with unassuming British accent, it’s really quite perfect. Plaintive pleas for forgiveness for all of the trouble they’ve caused, the sticky web in which they’ve caught themselves and us. They didn’t mean it, don’t you see?
Projecting BP onto Coldplay’s melancholy makes me feel almost sympathetic to the corporate giant’s plight. As a Gulf Coast resident, I claim the right to forgive them. I want this oil spill to get fixed, by them, in a hurry. Yes. I am armed to the hilt with hope that the oil spill will not wreak the long-term damage that we have every reason to believe will be wrought. And then I’d like to move on.
Make us whole. Then can we please share a stiff drink and put this behind us?
I am armed to the hilt with denial. Perhaps.
I am writing this article from a coffee shop on the shore of Mobile Bay in Alabama. We are on vacation, an effortless hour east of our home in Gulfport, Mississippi. The kids and I are spending the month of July at a beach house, conveniently toting ourselves back and forth across the Gulf Coast as needs arise for tending. An indulgent luxury, to be sure, as we don’t have an abundance of money to throw around.
But who needs money for a Gulf Coast vacation these days? Never one to let a good disaster go unexploited, record high vacancy rates and a mind for negotiation are this frugal traveler’s best friends. A month at a beach house? Honey, we are just short of seeing signs crying “FREE Beach House with purchase of a Large Sweet Tea!”
In other words, “Come on down, ya’ll! The water’s fine… -ish.”
Please do not let my impudent attitude offend you. This is how we get through disasters in the South. I didn’t put on 20 pounds after Hurricane Katrina because I was sitting around munching junk on the couch. Gulf Coast locals get together and make the most of a bad situation. Every damn time.
Mary Chapin Carpenter wasn’t far off when she said “There’s a hurricane party every time it blows.” Although I would like to point out that it’s prudent for those parties to occur just after the hurricane, not before. Before the storm, you should really evacuate.
My husband, Al Jordan, is a plaintiff’s attorney in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. He was recently on one of my favorite public radio programs, The Story with Dick Gordon. Answering questions about representing local fishermen and other parties suffering damages as a result of the oil spill, he hesitated when Dick Gordon asked him why we stayed on the Gulf Coast after losing everything in Hurricane Katrina. Dick had been taken aback when Al mentioned, in the offhand way we’ve grown accustomed to mentioning these things, that our home was reduced to a slab of concrete in Katrina.
Dick wanted to know why we didn’t leave in the gruesome aftermath of such loss.
The unspoken suggestion we so frequently hear in our minds, “Why are these Gulf Coast residents such insistent gluttons for punishment?”
After the question was asked the second time, Al finally responded in the only way that makes sense to any of us here, "The people. We stay because of the people. It's the reason [my clients] aren't going to leave because their livelihood is gone."
The culture that would make it entirely reasonable for our family to become tourists on our own Gulf Coast shorelines right smack dab in the middle of this crisis? The culture that would see a massive crawfish boil as the only acceptable way to brace for impact of the oil? The culture that would line the beaches and believe, on some ancient level, that shrimp boats laden with decorative flags and a healthy dose of holy water may just ward off the oil from making landfall? It’s a magnet planted so deep that we still feel its pull regardless of how far we attempt to wander.
A tuning fork that resonates so fully, it shakes sense right from our minds, perhaps.
We need the oil spill response to be fully complete. We need to be made whole again. We need BP to make this right.
That means we need BP to remain strong. Requisite to their repairing the damage that they have caused and rooted in their grounded assurance that they will not let this happen again, we forge ahead. We need to push through our anger and frustration and understand that if BP fails, if BP goes bankrupt, we all lose.
But they aren't making this effort to hope to recover easy for us. Al Jordan's frustrations on behalf of his clients are clear:
BP continues to relentlessly feed Gulf Coast residents their “we’ll make this right” chant aimed solely at influencing the attitudes of a community that could potentially be stripped of its identity in an attempt to limit their exposure.
What makes me physically ill is two fold: 1) the consistently contradicting position the company continues to take when dealing with individual claimants which will ultimately result in lawsuits, meaning that those on the Coast will face the same fate as those woefully undercompensated families in Alaska. 2) use of dispersants to keep the oil out of sight and hidden on the Gulf floor to contaminate the heart of the food chain, the heart of the entire body of water.
Boycotting BP feels good. Punishing them is exhilarating, isn’t it? They should be sorry and, by damn, we’re going to make sure they feel the force of our fury. Finally, finally!, we have a target for our anger (Mother Nature never does smart like a good Englishman caught vacationing on a yacht) and do we ever have it to unleash. BP, you are in trouble, mister. Belt it out like Coldplay because you are in a complicated web of trouble like you have never seen.
Then we need to let them fix the damage. Make us whole. Hell, make us better than whole. Work with them to leave the Gulf Coast better than they found it. Seize every opportunity that we may recognize, inconveniently disguised as disaster.
I never suggested it is easy to be a Gulf Coast resident. And I never said that we forget after we forgive. This is an incredibly complicated time for all of us, emotionally and financially. This oil spill is dredging up emotional memories that many of us were unprepared to address. BP has effectively changed our futures, the way we will parent our children, the lives we expected to live.
How do we reconcile this? Just like our kids, it helps to convey that we may be able to move forward if they make it right and learn from the mistake. There lies a lot of power behind learning from mistakes.
Sitting on the front porch of this rented beach house, watching the sun rise above the rich waters of Mobile Bay and enjoying the as yet crude-free smell of the breeze, my three year old opened the door and said, “Mom, what does it mean, ‘busted’?” I turned to smile at a face covered in candy. The best kind: before-breakfast candy.
Clearly, his older brother had informed him that he would be “busted” if I saw him with that face. And so he was. Walked right into it. So I told him that he was, indeed, busted, but that if he went and cleaned his face, then cleaned up all of his toys scattered all over the living room floor, and finally promised me he wouldn’t even look at the candy until after lunch, that we’d call it square.
BP, you have oil on your face. Face us. We can make this square.
Megan Jordan authors Velveteen Mind and is the founder and editor-in-chief of Blog Nosh Magazine. She is working on a book about resilience and hastens to add that it will be about neither hurricanes nor oil spills, rather absolutely about you.
Six Lessons from the BP Oil Spill (Christian Science Monitor: psst… I’m in #5!)
Big Changes in the Gulf (The Story with Dick Gordon interview)
The Last Haul Photos (Fast Company: #25-26 are our kids!)
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