A dear friend wrote to me recently about the anguish she felt over the oil that continues to inundate the heart of the sea. She is a brilliant poet, and one who looks squarely at the horrors of the body and soul, but she also is a person of action and feels helpless in the face of this heartsickness. She is a writer, as am I, so this is what I wrote in reply.
"Sometimes it takes a self inflicted wound to halt the bleeding. I think of those "relief wells" inching their way through the seabed, and it almost feels like using a lancet to release bad humors in those days when western medicine and modern science knew little of each other. Black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood. The body out of balance.
We are shockingly primitive in our modern response to what our greedy delving has released. It is like Tolkein's Balrog of Moria that awoke when the dwarves went too deep after their mithril. It took Gandalf's death and rebirth to quench its flame. It will require something like that of us as well.Tolkien the lover of Trees also understood the sadness of the elves who outlived all else that they loved, who knew the ancient oaks from acorns and saw whole forests heedlessly destroyed to satisfy the consumptive now. The Scouring of the Shire is for me the most important part of the Lord of the Rings.
The more we look unflinchingly at the horror of this house of grimy cards, the more we insist never again, the better chance we have that some positive lessons can be learned. As for the wounded sea, the irreplaceable losses and the long term scars, sometimes the best we can do is bear witness, to tell their stories, to feel and to weep and to give tongue to grief. The real healing happens over spans of time beyond human years, although it is amazing what resilience is possible from decade to decade.
Consider the dramatic change in status of so many birds, including Brown pelicans, threatened with extinction by DDT and now recovering in its absence. The harp seals that now haul out on the beach at Windrock when before the Marine Mammal Protection Act they were heedlessly slaughtered. The quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink which when you were growing up was fouled and disregarded.We cannot sit by and say in a thousand years the earth will cleanse itself of the outrages we inflict on it. There is a small comfort in knowing that geologic time is measured in millions while we encompass decades, but we only learn through telling and bearing witness, and a poet with your heart and depth of love for the ocean is the right person at the right time to give expression and meaning to this self inflicted wound."