Oil and Water

I have consumed 2 plastic water bottles this morning and it's not even 10. I say this with some degree of frustration. American's consume 60 million bottles of water a day, and so I am counting myself lucky. I am living the American Dream - I have the privilege to be wasteful.

Still, 2 bottles before 10am is not a common practice for me. I am coming to the end of my stay in New Orleans, and frankly do not trust the water here. There is a 
camaraderie in sharing a glass of tap water here that is reminiscent of a crawfish boil, particularly after the storm. This is cancer alley, and pollution is everywhere. The water here has not been clean for some time. Drinking the tap water is a gesture of compassion, a statement that you understand. It says that you are accepting these conditions as your own, that you do not put yourself above anyone, that you are not special.

And so my drinking bottled water this morning is a double offense. Not only am I drinking from a container that I will likely only use once, and which is made of the same crude oil that is hemorrhaging in gushes from the earth like a stab wound just miles from here, I am also drawing a line in the sand culturally. I am not willing to lay my own body down to the reap even a very small part of the impacts of my own participation in oil culture.

I am guilty, and trying my best to sit with that and understand what, if anything, I can do about it. I don't want to pass the buck on this one. This crisis is not the fault of BP, it is the distributed fault of a collection of individuals who live in the most wasteful society in history, and who are at the same time unable to think or act as a collective enough to curb our own habits and actions.

I have made a choice, at the very least, to point the finger at my own self first. I will not waste time and energy blaming BP or Obama or the coast guard for not springing into action soon enough, not taking responsibility soon enough, not doing enough.  Again, that blame is an easy distraction from the discomfort of facing my own part in this. What are they doing to stop the effects of this catastrophe? What am I doing? What are you doing? What are we doing? What can we do? What can any of us do? The truth is that while we were comfortable in our air conditioned houses and offices, we supported a government that made promises to protect us that they did not keep. They are as much at fault for not keeping their promises as we are for not having cared enough to check, or for having trusted a system that is so clearly not trustworthy. Denial is not just a river. It's also an oil slick, and all the scapegoats we are focusing our anger on.

We can displace our own guilt by persecuting the company man, or we can sit in this horrible realization that we are each responsible. We are a hive with no access to our own collective intelligence or collective direction. We do not know how to effectively mobilize individually or collectively to separate ourselves from a substance that we continue to consume at our own peril.

I was listening to Leonard Cohen's 'Anthem' and finding myself, as I often do, marveling at the lyrics. I offer them here as a glimmer of hope in these times, and a call to do something. Even if it's useless. We will find our power and voices individually and collectively through our own participation and expression and creation and action, even when it seems pointless or like nothing we can do will make a difference:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in...