Thursday, June 24, 2010

So... what do we call "normal" now?

We'll return to normal when we establish what normal actually is. - Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Earlier this month, President Obama said that "things are going to return to normal" for residents of the Gulf of Mexico.

I spoke yesterday about the pristine water and sand of Pensacola Beach, where I visited my grandparents this past weekend. Rows of colorful umbrellas lined the sand as hundreds of happy families and children (still fewer than usual for this time of year) played in the sun. Not a single tar ball. No burnt-plastic smell.

I wondered how long it would last, or if they would continue to keep the oil from the shore.

Just two days later, there aren't just a few tar balls washing up - the shoreline is literally coated in thick, disgusting oil.

Much like any massive disaster, it is important to focus on small, personal stories to gain perspective. Hearing random, projected figures of gallons or barrels doesn't hit the heart or soul like reading the story of children and teenagers crying and struggling to save a baby dolphin, wiping oil off its body with their bare hands.

These are the dolphins we played with as children while wading on the sand bar, the ones that follow sailboats like old friends. We protect them - just as we do all the gulf coast wildlife. We tread carefully around areas where sea turtles lay their eggs. After hurricanes we walk the beach to pick up bits of glass and pieces of people's homes. We balk in disgust if we find a stray piece of litter on our perfect beach. This is not my normal.

It is difficult enough for me to try to wrap my head around this as an adult, but to imagine small children approaching an oil-soaked beach and witnessing wildlife struggle for air, the noxious fumes burning their eyes, asking, "mom, is this normal?"

It is more than I can bear.

Photo: The Pensacola News Journal