Insufficient Fire

Almost ten years ago, I sent an email to quite a few (roughly 30) friends and acquaintances. Complete with a few glaring typos (corrected here), I think it’s safe to say I composed the invitation—that recipients join me to help support the residents of Grand Isle, Louisiana—after I’d had a few glasses of wine. This morning, as I read the message I sent, my memory was cloudy. What hurricane struck Grand Isle, Louisiana in June, 2010? My message did not mention a storm; I just assumed it was a hurricane. But as I dredged my memories and explored the events of 2010, it finally became clear to me: the crisis that so impacted the tourism industry (and many others) in Grand Isle was the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

Friends and acquaintances,

I have hatched what may be a hair-brained idea but which I hope is an idea you can support. Here’s the deal: The residents of the Gulf Coast who depend on the tourism industry are hurting and hurting bad. Motels and fishing guides have no customers; restaurants are empty. The town of Grand Isle is among the hardest hit and the least able to cope with the crisis. The people of Grand Isle depend on the Gulf for their livelihoods; with the oil spill, their lives are up in the air.

My hair-brained idea is this:

Let’s have a party! All of us who know one another and who can tolerate one another’s company could have a helluva time in Grand Isle, I’m sure. What do you think about picking a weekend (very soon…maybe even the July 4 weekend) and going over to Grand Isle with a group of your friends? We could go over as a group or individually, rent motels so that we’d have places to stay (and they would be able to feed their kids for another day), ask them (restaurants, etc.) to throw us a big party, and just have a great time experiencing the hospitality of the Louisiana Coast. We’d expect to pay their normal rates for hotel and food, etc., but we’d expect them to help us have a good time by showing us how a real Louisiana party is done!

I believe we could do a lot of good for a bunch of good people who, through no fault of their own, are suffering a horrific economic nightmare. Are you in? Tell me what you think! And please, circulate this email as widely as you can. I would like this to be a big, very successful event for Grand Isle.

Please tell me soon whether you’d be in and when would be a good time for you. Let’s assume you’d fly to New Orleans on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning, rent a car, and drive to Grand Isle. You’d come back Sunday afternoon or Monday, as you wish (or stay longer and help even more).

I think this could be a lot of fun and could be enormously beneficial to the people of the Gulf Coast. Who knows, it this is successful, maybe we could encourage others to do it for other parts of the coast!

Please, let me know what you think and whether you’d be willing to support this. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for considering this hair-brained idea!

John Swinburn

No one responded in the affirmative, as far as I can recall. Not a single person. Out of all of my acquaintances, apparently no one considered it a serious suggestion. Or, if they did, none of the recipients was either able or willing to invest either the time or the money to support the residents and businesses of Grand Isle, Louisiana. When I got no positive feedback, I abandoned the idea. I certainly could do very little on my own. I had believed I could gather “my people” around so we could collectively do what none of us could have done individually. I was wrong.

During the course of the next several years, money was spent in an attempt to restore the ecosystems so badly damaged by the BP oil spill. Queen Bess Island, an important nesting area for Louisiana brown pelicans, was restored with fines levied against BP.  There were other injections of money and support, mostly geared toward restoring or attempting to restore devastated wildlife habitats. The people of Grand Isle were recipients of such support, albeit indirectly.

Several years earlier, I somehow connected with a woman, Kimberly Chauvin, who, with her husband, were shrimpers and shrimp retailers in Terrebone Parish, Louisiana. They had a shrimp boat, the Mariah Jade. I bought shrimp from her after another disaster, Hurricane Katrina, did almost incomprehensible damage to the shrimping industry and, therefore, to the shrimping business she and her husband ran. My purchase of shrimp was a tiny, almost invisible token of support for them. I think my interest in showing up to support Grand Isle was as much a desire to help someone I “knew” (but did not really) as it was a more global sense of responsibility to the people of the community.

At any rate, nothing ever became of my message asking my acquaintances to support Grand Isle. I never made contact with Kimberly Chauvin again, nor did I do anything else to support the victims of the Deepwater Horizon. Oh, I may have donated a pittance to a fund dedicated to recovery, but even if I did, it was essentially meaningless. I wanted BP to pick up the entire tab for the damage their oil platform’s failure had done. They paid, but not nearly enough, in my estimation.

I was disheartened that no one took me up on my invitation to go to Grand Isle. I’ve still never been there. I doubt I’ll ever go.

The fact that I did not even remember why I had written my message without first dragging memories out of my brain tells me I may not have been as fully engaged and committed as I thought I was. It was just another catastrophe. One of many human tragedies with calamitous consequences for wildlife and the environment, as well. I took one shot at helping; that shot failed; time to move one.

A comment made recently on an older post here give me pause. The person who commented said “I think where we often go wrong, however, is with forced compassion. I’ve become ever more convinced that forced compassion is quite often, the road to hell.”  I responded with, “Forced compassion bypasses genuine emotion; I think it’s bound to be artificial and insincere. Regardless of the desire to be compassionate, if compassion does not arise naturally, I think the emotion that attempts to mimic it is hollow, at best, and as insulting as it is patronizing.” I wonder, was my half-hearted attempt to garner support for Grand Isle just forced compassion? When it failed to generate a response, I let it go. True compassion would have sought out another way, done something else in an effort to accomplish the same objective.

The fire in the belly that sparked the call to action was not hot enough. It was just an ember that died for want of a more vibrant spark. I should have poured gasoline on it and tried to spark it again. Instead, I let it smolder until the ember turned to ash. I sometimes get very angry with myself for my inaction. And that anger can last for years.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Insufficient Fire

  1. Ravenous North of Richmond, next time a Gulf oil platform bursts into a geyser of molten mayhem, I’ll expect you to join me for lunch in Grand Isle!

  2. Ravenous North of Richmond says:

    I’m not going to lie. I’d go just for the shrimp on that plate!

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