Category Archives: Hot Summer Weather

Floods and Fortitude

Randy Newman a poet and songwriter, as well as gifted singer, wrote a song about an earlier flood. The song still works and its lyrics still resonate. The place names of the remembered waters are not exactly the right ones but they are not so far away. We are accustomed to being tried here and this is certainly a trial.  But there is a lot of complexity to the issues that relate to this flood and to other disasters. Previous trials have been mentioned in this blog here, here and here for example.  But man made disasters are more often the subject of this blog than storms and there has never been a shortage of manmade disasters. Sometimes the line is blurry. There is a town suing the State of Louisiana for road planning that interfered with effective drainage and that kind of thing is tricky. It takes skill and technology and hard work to live here.  In Randy Newman’s song the Flood has the feel of a an assault or siege.

 What has happened down here is the winds have changed
Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain
Rained real hard and it rained for a real long time
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

The river rose all day
The river rose all night
Some people got lost in the flood
Some people got away alright
The river have busted through clear down to Plaquemines
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

I took the pictures above in the days of the flooding along with many others. Some of them were lost in a phone which was also lost in the flood. Actually it was damaged beyond repair. But as bad as things were there was not so much sense of moral assault this time as their sometimes is. Not quite as much as in the Randy Newman tune.
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us awayPresident Coolidge came down in a railroad train
With a little fat man with a note-pad in his hand
The President say, “Little fat man isn’t it a shame what the river has done
To this poor crackers land.”
The politicians still have a great deal of politicking to do. Meanwhile, we are all (actually most of us — we have our deadweight folks, also the truly needy and the shattered– but most of us are ) trying to do the best to get through this and get others through this. I have invested some time because as bleak as my situation is I am not substantially victimized by the flood itself. There is always a question of how the culture around here relates to the cultural framework of our society as a whole and how it ought to relate to that society. The Cajun Navy has become one of the points of controversy in this communication between ways of doing and being, a link to that controversy is here.  My judgement of being isolated and abused is not yet as intense as in the Newman lyrics:
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away

What can I do? Well, I have done quite a few things. So have others around me. At the bottom of this post is a collection of pictures I took during the time I spent at the distribution center in the United Way facility in Lafayette, Louisiana. I was busy receiving and helping to distribute goods.  In the set of pictures just below these words I was working with St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in Abbeville which was involved in a variety of flood relief activity. It so happens that the house chosen for me to work on was that of an old and dear friend and his family. John Dale Lege and Charlene were very close friends years ago and part of what John Dale and I did together was volunteer work on the houses of the needy. But John Dale was in those days a very hardworking young father and a black belt in Karate. Today he is long now fully disabled. In testimony to how close we were back then I am the godfather of his daughter Anne Frances whose middle name is in honor partly of me. She is a mother now and long has been a productive citizen. I stay in touch but we are not that close any more. There home was ravaged by the flood and they were one real and tangible set of actual people injured by this catastrophe. However, before either of these outraeches I had already been busy doing flood related things…

 

 

The truth is hard to come by… goes the John Denver song I like.  to quote but the truth is United Way, St. Mary Magdalene Church and others with whom I have worked are making a difference. We are doing what we can.  For me getting back to normal doesn’t seem so great but still it has to be a primary goal. The disaster must be addressed whatever our normal problems may be. The local chapter of the American Red Cross, the local United Way organization, Lafayette High School Student Government, St. Thomas More High School and Americorps were only some of the organizations that I saw involved in the receiving and distribution day that I participated in. Among for proffit organizations I saw Rope, Soap and Dope, Hub City Diner and the gentleman I am in the picture with is a Spolinno (sp?) from Crowley originally who owns and operates A. Bryan’s Jewelry in Lafayette. The community was coming together in many ways.

A Bryan's United Way Flood The Love - 3 United Way Flood The Love - 2 United Way Flood The Love - 1

Best wishes to all who are helping. the crisis is not over yet. But the recovery is well underway.

Faith Camp, Bukidnon Youth Conference and the Future

Faith Camp is a one week long camp held for middle school aged students based somewhere in Vermilion Parish. There are currently two such camps held each year. While the kids are the focus it is an event that involves people of all ages. For many who participate in its various aspects it is both an optimistic and fun experience and a deeply spiritual one. The Catholic faith is celebrated in a context which is fairly complete and brings the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the experience of church into the lives of these young people in a complete way.

The last two weeks  before this posting there has been ongoing the 20th year of continuous Faith Camps. This ministry was founded by my sister Susanna whom I saw at Faith Camp last night. At the time she founded she and were regular prayer partners and she was in the area and living at Big Woods during the summer after having started her studies at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. It was a fairly small camp that year but I was deeply impressed with it and shared with her my own memories of a live-in conference  in Bukidnon when she was a child as one of my better memories and so the two things were linked in my mind at the inception although there was not much of a causal link.  Susanna wasalso a small child when the Bukidnon Youth Conference was going on around and near her in various manifestations in Malaybalay, Bukidnon on the southern island of Mindanao in the Republic of the Philippines. I haven’t been back since the 1980s but it was a time which I have always felt had a big influence on the rest of my life and other lives in the family. Many members of my family have played key roles in the success of the camp over the decades. This year a middle school aged child of one of the campers at the second camp was a camper at Faith Camp.

 

 This year my sister Sarah’s eldest daughter Alyse is the coordinator of Faith Camp as she was last year. This is one of the blog posts that I write that is not primarily driven by the news. It is more driven by  a series of important experiences, recollections  and feelings which resonate in my life. This is one of those posts which combines both some vivid recollection and some fading memories: But the hope one felt at key times continues. The possibility of really putting together a history of those years is a daunting and not a very promising prospect. But the prospect of trying to recapture some of the spirit of those times seems a worthy aspiration as it will help me to convey some thoughts about the current times and some of the times in between now and then. I went from New Zealand to the Philippines with my birth family when I was seventeen and arrived there around Christmas. The bottom right hand picture below is of the Maranatha Youth Group in St. Pius X Church Parish in Titahi Bay which I left behind there on those cool windswept coasts. We passed through Australia on the way there.The top set of damaged images are from my time in the Philippines as is my better picture of myself leading my sisters on the carabao. The bottom right hand corner isa picture of the wall of my Household at the Franciscan University of Steubenville.

 

 We were in the Philippines for a couple of years (or so I remember without checking) and Simon was born with difficulties associated with Prader-Willi Syndrome. That was also at Christmas and was at the time of my Bukidnon Youth Conference which is the real subject of part at least of this post. Due to Simon’s condition we came back to the United States. While there I completed my Freshman Year at USL — now the University of Louisiana  — in one semester and in the preceding summer worked in some college and youth ministries in the church. Then we all returned to the Philippines and I renewed my ministry for a while and in the summer just after my brother Joseph was born and having overstayed my visa in a tense time in a country on edge and with a gift of a large and dangerous looking tribal sword I flew back alone to the United States.The picctures I took there for various reasons have not much been digitzed and the ones that were have not al made it into part of the cloud I can access. But the memories that I have of the Philippines are indeed plentiful and meaningful. Many of them were pleasant enough. Although the images in the pair below do not show the day to day life there as I justified that life they do show some of the rewards of the experience. Visiting the sick westerners in trouble, prison ministry, speaking to dozens of groups and working with college ministries all filled most of my days. But the Bukidnon Youth Conference was perhaps the  peak of my ministry there.  Being a 52 year old, divorced, childless near indigent was not the future among many possible futures which I saw as most likely in those days. But the journey since has certainly been a complicated on and rich too in color and texture and that sense of richness makes me feel like an expert on almost everything on some days. While that is not fair to much of anything neither or the days entirely fair when I feel that my onIy efforts to communicate come from having little else to do that is fulfilling and that I only ever feel that I  am well qualified to be a sage because I appear not to be qualified for anything else. My life has not been laser focused in a single direction and my time in the Philippines was not either. I like Faith Camp and I liked the Bukidnon Youth Conference in part because they touched many aspects of life from the arts to sport to socializing over dinner. This reminds me of one of my first Facebook notes when I wrote about  some of the extracurricular activities and hobbies that have enriched my life  and divided them into the big three categories of Faith, Science and Sports which I  chose to denominate as easy issues for that early Facebook note. These Easy Issues are not to be confused with the Easy Essays written by Peter Maurin of the Catholic Worker Movement. His essays were easy,  because he easily guided the reader through the complexities of political philosophy to a simple and cohesive approach which would provide the framework fo the movement he and Dorthy Day were founding. In my Facebook the subjects are easy because of my tremendous insights into the very narrow experience I had in each of those fields — I did not concern myself with the larger picture. There was some tongue in cheek in the use of there terms and words but Faith Camp and the Bukidnon Youth Conference were also founded to give young people a real body of experience that they could claim as their own. A small window of controlled positive experience from ehich to see the world.

During those years when ministry was part of my life I did a lot of work preparing to work . One thing  or another or many things must be left out including almost all my regular Catholic  school time but I now note  the religious education I received. Some I received within the context of the schools mentioned. However, I also took a set of remote preparation confirmation classes in the Diocese of Lafayette within the Come Lord Jesus Program and the brief imediate preparation course at a Parish in the Archdiocese of Wellington, New Zealand. I was confirmed by a cardinal. In the Diocese of Lafayette I also completed instruction in and was commissioned for Evangelism as a Lay Evangelist of my native dicoese. This was also where after college I was certified as a catechist. Beyond those things, I completed the Life in the Spirit Seminar, the Cursillo de Cristiandad (en Ingles), a basic Lector’s training, Prayer Group Leaders Training Course, a salvation history micro course and stdied as a journalist the English translation of the Prelature of Bukidnon’s Alagad course which was a successful lay leadership course. I also read and discussed the Documents of the Second Vatican Council many times and in many contexts. Susanna who founded Faith Camp completed here degree in theology while continuing to build up this ministry. The two things have in common that they communicate to the kids from a depp and well laid foundation.

Like a lot of activity among Christians it is designed to provide an opportunity for a personal spiritual experience. The importance of personal spiritual experience in America is more evident than in some countries. One of the reasons for that comes from a man who was not a Christian but had a profound influence on the Christian and other populations of these United States at a critical time — the Revolution. Thomas Paine, one of the great thinkers of the American revolution basically stated that one of the profound problems with revelation as a basis for any law or covenant is that as soon as it is written down or described rather than existing as a perceived miracle or apparition or Messianic epiphany it becomes mere tradition. Three things can be said about that idea that miracles and revelation become traditions:

1. It is somewhat true and worth keeping in mind.
2. If God, the universe, the gods and Divine Wisdom were communicating with humanity they might not excuse people who said “Well, I needed that direct Apparition your Highness — didn’t get it so it’s your fault not mine.”
3.In places and times such as existed in the Charismatic renewal there was a renewal within the person which was seen to confirm the written Word and the received tradition. It is out of that third connection with the renewal of the background music and lifestyle of our family that the Bukidnon Youth Conference (BYC) and twenty years of Faith Camps have come. The Bukidnon Conference was less part of the Charismatic Renewal than was some of my work in those days and the current Faith Camps only remind one of the renewal. But the tradition is there.

St. Augustine is credited with two sayings that mean a lot to me as far as faith goes. One is “Seek not to understand that you may believe. Seek rather to believe that you may understand.” That saying is not perfect and is easily misconstrued but it remains profoundly true and truly profound.The second saying I will allow to explain itself and to be interpreted without me. St Augustine wrote “The best and the worst men in the world live in monasteries.” The idea that these young people come together to find understanding and to explore a fully lay spirituality does not mean that none will later become monks, priests, scientists or theologians some do and those around usually rejoice.  But the experience is of a different focus of informing a growing faith and living for Christ in the world.

That Filipino journey  in which the Bukidnon YouthBconference was born was one  which only temporarily ended just after the conference itself. But after returning with them from my time at USL and in this region I did not stay but went to enroll at the school where Susanna was studying when Faith Camp was founded.  I returned a bit early and went to live that summer with my paternal grandparents in a larger than most two storey house beside a park. That  is where I lived in that intervening summer have lived at other times and is also where I am living  now as I type this but I have only been here for a few months this go round. Then I enrolled as a sophomore at the Franciscan University. The summer after my sophomore year I returned to the Philippines to visit and overstayed my visa yet again by only a few days and flew home alone. I left school in mid semester for complicated reasons including some to do with problems in the Philippines related to those whom I had invited into the region to help me with the Youth Conference and  shortly after leaving school I met my parents returning to Abbeville where I currently reside. All of that was along time ago and I took a break to do some more ministry and other things before enrolling again at USL and finishing my degree there. Thousands of picture taken during those and subsequent years are unavailable to me here and now on this blog. But the family on the bottom left hand of the set below are the son of Abbeville friends and his wife who have been FMC missionaries where we once served for more than a few years now. The picture on the bottom right hand corner shows my brother Simon and my parents at an FMC Donors Dinner. He clearly survived the ordeals surrounding his birth as did we all.

 

Of the  actual BYC as an event I have no photos to share and never had many photos. Indeed of the conference itself very little documentation was made and far less survives. But there are a few things and here are a pair of snippets of that time. The newsletter Resounding Praise which defined so much of our communication with the rest of the world had a feature on the conference. This gathering so distant in time and space is still near to my memory and sensibility. The sense and vision behind the conference was one of bringing young Catholics and some not sure they were Catholics together to celebrate the gospel and to deal with the real challenges not only of their personal lives but of Islamist and Communist pressures from groups which in several cases were profoundly hostile to their Catholic Christian commitments.  There was also a real openness to finding what could be improved in the generally pro-American, Catholic, free market synthesis that informed the conference. There was not a tone of xenophobia or paranoia but of relatively optimistic participation in the world as it was  for young Catholic Christians. There is something in Faith Camp’s tradition that has always reminded me of that event.

 

 

There are bigger events in the world than Faith Camp or the Bukidnon Youth Conference but bigness is not everything. Nonetheless as America approaches it participation with other countries in the Rio Olympic Games I am reminded that the New testament is full of references to Olympic events. Paul wrote of racing, boxing, archery and of the disciplines of training as well as the glories of victory in those ancient games. For those going to the Olympics who are Christians while they should respect the games and the diversity there it can be both a mission and a spiritual experience in Christ.

A few years ago London prepared to see the wedding take place in Westminster Abbey there was a lot of suffering and pain in the world. Truthfully, there is almost always a lot of suffering and pain in the world.  Whatever their role may be in adding to the sum of distress in the world, the British royals do quite a bit to lessen the sum of woe and that was not the less true in a year when they were planning a royal wedding . That  set of outreaches to those in need is an effort that  is well documented. Prince Charles, Camilla Duchess of Cornwall and Prince William (the bridegroom this weekend) all have long supported a variety of charities benefiting humans, animals, ecosystems and cultural groups in distress.Prince Charles has a substantial income as Duke of Cornwall and donates a great deal of the income to charities in such a way that it leverages and is leveraged by other charitable donations. While it may well be that not a direct penny of that family’s efforts and gifts will go to help those hurt by the tornadoes whch ripped through the South last night it is also true that they are part of a philanthropic community around the world in which helping is informally circulated almost everywhere. Two babies (at least) ago the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth celebrated on the 29th of April 2011 The wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. This expensive and extravagant occasion was also a Christian ritual and gathering and an expression of faith. The scene was truly extraordinary and the elegant venue and the well prepared  liturgy and preaching were all rather impressive even for those who are not so easily impressed.  The sermon of the Anglican Bishop of London is one which I have found to be a worthy sermon to address our times:

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” So said St Catherine of Siena whose festival day it is today. Marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves.

Many are full of fear for the future of the prospects of our world but the message of the celebrations in this country and far beyond its shores is the right one – this is a joyful day!

It is good that people in every continent are able to share in these celebrations because this is, as every wedding day should be, a day of hope.

In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and the groom as king and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them into the future.

uture.

 

The future does flow through families and gathering and weddings and the like. Churches and other communities have an obligation, it seems to me to prepare young people to be conduits of the grace of God and the hope of the future into new generations. They need to be prepared for the task. All married couples, all celibates and many other classes of not mutually exclusive kinds of people have to be educated in that complete humanity. For Faith Camp that is a Catholic Christian experience An I like that best but it also speaks to those not with us in that community. I am not a young optimist and my own view of life can be pretty bleak often enough. But while  I am sorry that when caught up in nearly apocalyptic events I often already have declared myself to have been involved in a number of calamities — sorry but not very repentant. these conferences and other things have not made me boldly cheerful in that sense. But each Faith Camp and its predecessor to my view  have in fact reminded me that how one engages with life may change over the years  but faith filled engagement  and courage remain necessary.  I know that I  was at one time more fully engaged in meeting the world and the changes going on around me with gusto and energy than I am now. I beilieve that some of those now enthused will persevere in doing good but will not have the same zest when they are my age as they do now.  The world is no stranger to my dire assessments and prognostications regarding my own life and future but the truth is I am still in the fight for the same causes and so are some of those who fought with me under that old distant BYC banner. So also is Susanna and her early team.

Faith Camp prayer - 8   But there is a time and a place for looking back on all that has happened in ones life and that place is this blog. The time is spread out over many posts and pages. The truth is that I was not always quite so late middle aged, directionless and chronically despondent as I am now.  There were times when I aspired to other and more things in daily life than a differing serving of a perpetual mix of the routine, the impossible and the trivial. I was working hard at BYC but perhaps nobody got more out of it than I. I rejoice in the legacy I see although nobody else may see it the same way exactly.

The outgrowth of my various involvements and labors over the years are not all that easy to track, however there has been an institution which has grown out of all that activity in one sense or another and which is also dear to my heart for various reasons…  My brother John Paul was the head coordinator longer than anyone else so far I believe. It is also interesting that this year’s head coordinator Alyse Spiehler has a brother who although he only went to the first camp and was abroad on his birthday during the second camp has celebrated his birthday at Faith Camp several years and probably will again. In fact all of my sibling except Simon and my deceased half brother have served ads head coordinators or coordinators although I never have. I did of course at BYC which I consider to be an ancestor of Faith Camp. The family tie is a real one with my family but there are many other family ties as well. This does not make the focus more narrow and our family does not embody any analogous local set of privileges to those that shaped the hosting of the large wedding in London mentioned before. But the family story is part of the Faith Camp story.

 

That is, with everything else already mentioned and many other things not mentioned here  — the ongoing work of Faith Camp. That is the distant legacy of the BYC. And in some way it is the universal call of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are called to be the Body of Christ as Church and to celebrate the mystery of the fullness of life Christ came to offer and assure. All of that is part of the Faith Camp Story.

faith camp week 2, 2016 - 4 faith camp week 2, 2016 - 2 faith camp week 2, 2016 - 1

BP Oil Spill & A Tour for Kenneth Feinberg

i have given lots of small informal tours to those visiting the Gulf and Louisiana. I think that Kenneth Feinberg needs such a tour. I am too disconnected to give him the tour I would recommend. But I would recommend a tour for his orientation and to get him established. in his tasks.

For those reading this blog post who may not know much at all about Kenneth Feinberg I recommend starting by going to this link and then coming back to the post here. http://abcnews.go.com/Business/bp-gulf-oil-spill-ken-feinberg-appointed-head/story?id=10933766

I would make this an “Open Letter to Kenneth Feinberg” except that I have no reason to believe he reads this blog and I also am not  writing a post in a good letter format. But I am going to write in manner such as I might use in writing to Mr. Feinberg if each item were imbedded in a letter

First, before we begin this tour you may wonder why you need it.  I think the federal government should pay for it.  That may seem an unnecessary expense.  That is all the more of a sign that you do need it. It is not only pleasurable although there should be some pleasure in ti. Cultivate a really open attitude and disposition.  Be more humble than usual. Mr. Feinberg you followed the news about Agent Orange for years before you mediated that dispute ( whether you were aware of it or not). You knew a great deal about the cultural features and institutions of the area of Manhattan that included the World Trade Center. You had heard of the Zapruder film for decades and you spent lots of time in universities like Virginia Tech. Certainly you could not call yourself an ingenue as regards Wall Street executive life. However, you are probably very much an ignoramus here. Asode from hiring consultants and masters to assist you I would urge you to take a tour although you will be criticized for some it and it must create some bad photographs which will (not merely might) hurt your image. Do it anyway, spend three days:

Evening One New Orleans:

a. Have someone knowledgeable discuss the Urner- Barry Seafood Price Current and  the free wildlife and fisheries brochures of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida (and maybe Texas as well).  Have them quiz you on a few areas. Then with the same small group order up some seafood and have a film party watch Louisiana Story and Angels of the Basin. Then have an offical of the Louisiana Seafood Promotions and Marketing board discuss the seafood that has been eaten and present a brief slide show on various species and fisheries. Get a good nights sleep.

Morning One New Orleans:

b. Take a special tour of the Aquarium of the Americas with the Audubon Institute. Then take a paddlewheel river boat to the Audubon Zoo. Have the Coast Guard point out various kinds of river vessels and industries.  Let the Port Authority present a brief sideshow and the Hotel Association cater a brunch. When you arrive at the zoo tour the relevant part of the zoo with the Audubon Institute.  Then walk across Audubon park to Tulane University.  Meet with the Environmental Law faculty and students. Let them report on what is going on. Have a few snacks and coffee with members of the environmental bar and the licensing community.

Afternoon One and Evening Two Louisiana and Mississippi:

c. Have a helicopter pick up you and a couple of consultants and fly you over the wetlands and over Venice before dropping you at Port Fourchon. Tour the LOOP and have the various petroleum associations present you with a sideshow.    Let Louisiana State University give you a history of the oil industry in the Gulf Coast with papers you can refer to later.

d. Take the refueled helicopter over the Atchafalaya and the marshes around Vermilion Bay to Delcambre, Louisiana have the business community, shrimpers and officials present the way that industry functions and the way people live. Have dinner at Jefferson Island and meet with representatives the eco-tourism industry. Watch the film about the Lake Peigneur Disaster. Tour the island and have The University of Louisiana at Lafayette present a lecture and slide show on the cultural history of Coastal Louisiana.

e. Drive to a small plane and have it fly you over the Gulf’s oil rigs on a special flight plan at night. Land in Biloxi, Mississippi. Take a brief tour of the Towns sights and stay in a casino hotel. Preside over a dinner hosted by the tourism community. Go to sleep.

Morning Two Mississippi and Alabama.

f. Drive on a high touring bus from Biloxi to Dauphin Island Alabama stopping to see beaches. In Dauphin Island here from the charter boat community. Have a seafood lunch. Take the fastest available charter boat from the Island to Mobile Bay.

Afternoon Two and Evening Three Alabama and Florida:

g. Attend a lecture in the Fort on historical tourism on Gulf Coast presented by the University of Alabama.  Have dinner in a nice hotel in Mobile and hear a presentation on how the coast functions as an economic region across and within states presented by the banking community. Fly in a small plane to Pensacola, Florida. Have a geographer discuss patterns of lit up settlement. Stay in a very upscale beachfront condominium and have the real estate community present  a sideshow and lecture on coastal real estate. Go to bed.

Morning Three Florida: 

  h. Drive from Pensacola to Destin stopping to see beaches and piers. Have a discussion with University of Florida faculty over lunch on the patterns of recent migration to the Florida Coastal regions and it national economic significance.

Afternoon Three Long Helicopter Flight :

i. Take a long helicopter flight over rigs ports and wetlands to Houma, Louisiana. Go to the BP Claims Center and have a discussion session with everyone working there. Ask questions, tour the facility meet some claimants who have been invited to dinner with you.

After dinner you will be free man. You will not know all that much but you will know what you do not know. Then when you do your job it need not be a long string of  insulting misunderstandings.

BP Oil Spill and My Personal Journey as of my 46th Birthday

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.        

htttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBoG7QUfq9s&playnext_from=TL&videos=6O6ffFm63Vg

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.