The Blessing of the Fleet occurred on June 6 in Biloxi, Mississippi. After years of good intentions to attend the blessing and boat parade but never managing more than catching it by chance from a waterside room at the Beau Rivage once, we made a point to witness the event this year. The year the oil came.
I was supposed to attend PubCampMS in Jackson at the Mississippi Public Broadcasting studios that weekend. A chance to meet social media experts from NPR (swoon) and local publishers, a rarity in these parts.
But I didn’t go.
Five years from now, I knew it would mean more to me that I attended the Blessing of the Fleet the year the oil came. Not that I met someone from NPR and dazzled them into immediately putting me on All Things Considered or hooking me up with Dick Gordon from The Story so that I could regale him with my storytelling skills.
I knew the memory that I wanted.
The Blessing of the Fleet is a ceremony marking the beginning of the fishing season for shrimp fishermen. The Pastor of St. Michael Catholic Church, located on the beach in Biloxi, and the Bishop of the Biloxi Diocese bless the passing fleet from an anchored “Blessing Boat” during a decorated boat procession in the Mississippi Sound, invoking a safe fishing season. Prosperous wouldn’t hurt. The officiating priest and bishop sprinkle holy water on the passing boats, laden with decorative flags and afloat with celebratory music and hope.
Residents and visitors of the Gulf Coast join in, crowding the barrier islands with their own boats and filling the shoreline along Beach Boulevard with well wishes of our own.
Were hope a measurable force, the collective Gulf Coast bloomed an energy shield against the oil spill that day.
Joy and anger create a force to be reckoned with and we gratefully contributed.
The oil is hitting our barrier islands now. It hadn’t yet that day. No smell of oil tainted the air. No sight of tar balls.
Though the threat lingered just off the horizon, we embraced the gifts of the Gulf. As a parent, I silently eyed the water with suspicion, thoughts of invisible dispersants not yet detected creeping into my responsibilities.
This oil spill is changing the way we parent. We thought we had all the time in the world to share the Gulf Coast with our children.
Cast-netting at sunset carried no sense of urgency. We always had tomorrow to master that throw. Sweltering heat armed us with viable excuses to not take the kids down to the beach today; we could always go next weekend.
Waiting until the baby was seven months old before she first dipped her toes into the warm Gulf of Mexico waters made perfect sense. She had a comforting lifetime of cozy dips ahead of her.
Denial is an intoxicating goddess, beckoning to the Gulf Coast locals with her come-hither smile. The few of us between Louisiana and Alabama that still enjoy clean beaches are tragically susceptible to the glitter of moonlight off of distinctly sheen-free waters.
I arch my head to the side, stretching my neck as if to ward off an impending headache. Hope and denial are heady elements, impossibly intertwined. Impossibly dangerous.
Writing about the oil spill comes easy yet is not tempting. How many times can I tell you that we are still waiting? That we are still hopeful the Mississippi Gulf Coast will be spared? Does knowing that more dead sea turtles are washing up on Gulfport beaches do any of us any good? Anger feels impotent.
Anger is next. The day I publish a post titled “Landfall” is the day you will feel my fury and heartbreak. And probably hear me curse like the shrimpers that are no longer allowed to fish their home waters.
I am not a shrimper. Oysters are more likely to accidently cut my feet as I walk along the water than to fill my belly or my bank account. This oil spill will not hurt me the way that it is hurting our local fishing and tourism industries*. I’m no heroine tied to the train tracks in this story.
But I am angry. I am entitled to my own personal brand of salty anger. I am a parent on the Gulf Coast and I had plans. Damn it. I had plans.
The pictures you see in this post are of the last day we entered the water. They tell us it’s still safe. The water is still clear. I see people swimming in it every day, surely they wouldn’t lie to us?
Trust is a slippery slope. Add a slick of oil to it, and God help you.
I knew the memory that I wanted. God bless us all.
* Ryan Marshall of Pacing the Panic Room recently featured our family in a photo series he did as part of his coverage of the oil spill for Fast Company. We are in the last two shots of The Last Haul Photos and were honored to add another layer to his perspective. I have become a fast fan of Ryan’s and look forward to his visits as he continues to follow the impact of the oil.
Follow him on twitter and tell him I sent you.
Read more posts related to the oil spill in Velveteen Mind: Gulf Coast Disaster Series.