Thursday, June 3, 2010

Our days of woes and roses -- June 3, 2010 column


By now, most people would agree that the most beautiful words in the English language are two we won’t hear anytime soon: pipe plugged.

Efforts nearly a mile under the surface of the Gulf of Mexico focus on containing the oil spill, not stopping it, while relief wells are drilled. It may be Labor Day before the wells are finished and Deepwater Horizon finally stops gushing oil. That’s if government officials are correct that this solution works.

A few Americans with legitimate claims for damages against BP will read what Dorothy Parker, the literary wit, said are the two most beautiful words in the English language: “check enclosed.” In this context, though, a check will be cold comfort for the families of the 11 men who died in the explosion, as well as for the fishermen and other businessmen and women whose livelihoods blew up with the rig.

The rest of us are passive victims of the oil disaster. Angry and sad, we have nowhere to turn for redress. Even if we could file a claim, we don’t want a check. We want to turn back the clock. We want what we wanted after 9/11 – to change the course of history so that the awful event never happened.

With the oil disaster, we would return to April 19, the day before the oil rig exploded, or long before that. We want a government that works on behalf of people and the planet, not corporate profits. We want effective safety rules and regulators who do their jobs. We want oil rig engineers who pay attention to warning signs.

We want what we’ve lost -- 11 lives, fairly clean seas, thriving sea life. And we want to give back our new-found, overarching sense of dread. That’s impossible too.

So we rail against BP, Transocean, Halliburton, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, the Minerals Management Service and, of course, President Obama. But, frankly, it’s hardly worth the breath. Spewing oil is poisoning our waters and fish, wetlands and beaches. We take it personally, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Most Americans are fed up. A friend wrote me the other day, “The oil spill is really getting under my skin.”

The president is angry and frustrated too. He keeps traveling to the Gulf Coast to show he cares. It may not be enough. He’s starting to look like the unlucky Jimmy Carter.

A wise man – my dad – often tells me not to worry about the things I can’t control. Like a lot of good advice, it’s hard to follow. We can’t control the woes that beset the globe, but that doesn’t mean we accept them. We make choices every day, and there we have some control.

Our choices won’t solve the world’s problems, but they can help us lead happier, healthier lives. Many Web sites offer tips for individuals who want to improve the environment or help others by volunteering. We don’t have to wait for Congress to pass an energy bill or for the next election. We can choose our path in the world.

Even small acts count. Before 6:30 on a lovely June morning, the radio newscaster warned that next up would be a disturbing news report about prison rape. That’s a terrible problem and one I don't need to know about before coffee. I turned off the radio. My choice.

It’s easy to become obsessed with BP’s live Web cam of the oil spill. I found myself returning to the vision of the fouled and murky netherworld, but why? I clicked away. My choice.

The novelist Henry James said the two most beautiful words in the English language are summer afternoon.

Our days of woes and roses are a good time to rediscover the simple pleasures of a summer afternoon. Maybe you choose to leave the car at home and ride a bike to the grocery store. Plant a tree. Join a walk or run for a good charity. Toss a ball in the back yard with a child. Go to the ball game and cheer the home team. Play croquet. Visit a cool (in both senses of the word) museum. Sit outside and listen to a concert. Most beaches are not oil-spoiled yet; walk barefoot walk in the sand. Make choices.

What’s your favorite way to a spend summer afternoon with family or friends? Write me and I’ll share some ideas in a future column.

© Marsha Mercer 2010. All rights reserved.


  1. Some things we like to do on a summer afternoon: have the neighbors over for ice cream or watermelon, run the 10k, play badminton. What are others saying? Interesting column. I hope things are not as bad as they look right now. Things happen but in the end, it all seems to work itself out.

  2. What to do on a summer afternoon - watch a baseball game on TV, while half asleep and fully relaxed. Summer afternoons are for being lazy and unstressed,