I am turning 46 years old this Tuesday. It will be the first birthday I have spent obsessing about an oil spill. Of course it may happen that this is not how I spend this birthday but it will certainly be the closest I have come to spending a birthday that way. I say that having spent a great deal of time thinking about oil spills compared to the average human on the planet. But I don’t think I have ever seen a greeting card which says “On the Occasion of your Birthday Marred and Affected by an Oil Spill.” I often spend the time before a birthday reviewing the good and the bad things about life and thinking a bit about the future. This is a birthday in which that will happen but so will the continuing process of thinking about the oil spill, it is odd really. In a world of odd things and a life that has been exposed to those odd things it is still an odd way to spend a birthday.
For me this oil spill is a sort of final catastrophe in a life in which bad memories are very numerous indeed. Yet as hot as it may get on a Louisiana summer and as much as I may not like the broiling heat that often marks the coming of my birthday– I have had good memories too and some have even happened on my birthday. I do not think there could be a lot of happiness on my birthday this year even without the spill. However, the spill certainly does not add gaiety. My maternal grandmother died last year on my birthday and this will be the first anniversary of her death. If one were to bet it would seem likely that it would be the last anniversary of her death as well as the first such anniversary that her widower, my maternal grandfather will be around for as well as being my birthday. That is not an altogether cheery milestone. The blasting oil is just something that overshadows all the good personal reasons to be miserable that day. That is the thing about a disaster like this. One already had enough problems without it in most cases. Life was hellish enough for many people before the Titanic hit the iceberg, the Union Carbide plant exploded in Bhopal, engineer in Long Island decided that texting and driving a train while intoxicated went well together. I am ready to mark the day that is the anniversary of my birth. However, there is an added shadow to it.
The day before my birthday is always Flag Day. It almost always look at the United States of America in relation to my birthday. While there are some good and noble things in this horrific uncontrolled gusher event which relate to the nation of the Star Spangled Banner, there is more horrible damage that hits at the core of needed and already endangered things. All in all this is much more of a blemish on that flag under which relatives and ancestors of mine have fought and died than it is a credit to it. Some things are just plain bad — this is one of those things. My relationship with the United States of America was already complicated and problematic. I felt no real need for another reason to be pessimistic about my homeland’s future and depressed about its present.
This is also a birthday which fall near Fathers Day. I have no children. One of my grandfathers is dead and I am estranged from my former father-in-law. So while I always honor my dad’s day and will recognize my remaining grandfather it is a holiday that has in some ways shrunk for me over the decades. I will not go into all the reasons why. But obviously when I was newly married it would have had different associations than it does now that I am long divorced. I do have some godchildren who often recognize the day with a card. But just as we extend holidays to godfathers and grandfathers in this region so some of us thin of patrimony a word related to father — pater being Latin for “father” and the root of the word patrimony. The wetlands are a great part of our patrimony in Louisiana. It is something I have shared with my father and which he shared with his father and which I shared directly and alone with his father and with him and his father. I taught one of my god-daughters, my niece Anika, to fish on Grand Isle where the oil is fouling so much right now. My father and I have plenty of reasons for our relationship not to be all joy and happiness, but the oil spill doesn’t help to brighten the occasion of Fathers Day.
So while I may end up finding some happy times on my birthday and would not have had a perfect birthday anyway the oil spill certainly does not help to make this a happier passing of the year. I think that in a small way this is an example of how the spill plays out for many other in a region already pushed and squeezed by bad economic, bad governance and bad business management. The spill just adds much more to the stress of many others than it does to me.
Today President Obama will be back on the Gulf Coast and on my birthday tomorrow will address the nation on the Gulf of Mexico Spill of 2010. I am not saying that his address is less pertinent than the one I am linking to here. In fact the following can be criticized for not giving prominent billing to the British Petroleum Spill. The speech is long and not entirely on point but it is by Prince Charles of the House of Windsor/Battenberg who is Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall. He has a long history of speaking and doing this to address human relations with the environment. He has no overt power to dictate national policy. I think he is a man worth listening to as we sound out this crisis.
So I am going to be turning 46. It will be a memorable year. But I wish it would be memorable for other reasons. Probably some others nearer the water share my birthday and are having the same thoughts in more dramatic terms.