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Buddhist Chaplains Love the Gulf (guest post)

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Grand Isle Graveyard, photo by Penny Alsop

Here’s the latest update from Penny Alsop, who I’ve mentioned and quoted several times before in The Jizo Chronicles.

Penny has initiated the “Chaplains Love the Gulf “ project and is coordinating a trip in August so that “the people and environmental region of the Gulf can receive the benefit of compassionate presence of a contingent of chaplaincy students.”  Penny took a scouting trip to Grand Isle, LA, this month to begin that work. This is her report.


More Love

by Penny Alsop

This past weekend I set out for Grand Isle, LA to begin our project, to research some details and to see for myself how my beloved Gulf coast and the people of Louisiana are faring since oil has taken over their lives in this most despicable way.  Lives have been turned upside down, every which way and even those who are making good money like the three fellows I met from Texas who work twelve hours per day, in twenty minute intervals, in hazmat suits in the sweltering Louisiana sun to wash the oil off of boom, would much prefer to be at home with their families.

The fellow that I spoke to on Dauphin Island, AL, a supervisor for BP, said seeing the oil in the form of tar balls on that island is breaking his heart. He hoped it would move on somewhere else, pausing as he seemed to realize that if that were the case, someone else’s heart would be breaking, right along with his. Later that evening my waitress said that business was slower than usual and that there were no tourists at all on the island “since the oil”, but because there were so many workers there instead, she was still making fairly good money. When the workers leave, as she’s heard they soon will, it’s going to be different story entirely.

In Grand Isle, there are hundreds of people working to clean up this mess. And the National Guard. And humvees parked at brightly painted beach front houses. And backhoes and front end loaders just feet from the shoreline. Huge pieces of rough plywood, hand painted in tall black letters announce in no uncertain terms that the beach is closed. The local sheriff enforces this by parking himself next to the sign. To cross the plastic orange construction fencing is a felony. Electric blue kiddie pools filled with chemicals meant to decontaminate boots exposed to oil I’m told, sit unsecured in front of the same fence. Dark clouds of ’something’ float in the salt water and huge swaths of black stuff has seeped into the sand. All visible only from a distance or from the one pier open in the state park. Small bands of workers scoop up three shovel fulls of blackened sand into plastic bags and toss them aside to be picked up and stacked in the plastic bag mountains at the staging area where huge white tents shelter hundreds of folding metal chairs.

My innkeeper tells me that she hasn’t been to the beach “since the oil”. She can’t bear to look. She’s more worried about the dispersant that is being sprayed each night. She wants to live a long life. She has grandbabies. Doreen greeted me with a tired, wary smile in a marina motel laundry room. No, she didn’t have any rooms available at the moment, maybe later in the month. Business is okay since lodging is at a premium but other people are losing their jobs. The marina is silent. No boats coming in or going out except to handle boom. The port is closed. Tears fill her eyes when she says that she’s afraid of losing her job. “Thank you, baby” she says, as I hug her neck.

They man who is responsible for drilling the relief well, the one that will be used to plug the blown out well permanently, has a perfect record. He’s never missed a target, this mechanical engineer. He’s working with bore-hole uncertainty as he guides the drill. Bore-hole uncertainty means that one really doesn’t know for certain where the drill or the target is at any given time. Wherever one may think that the drill is, is a momentary knowing. It can be displaced by unmapped and unanticipated obstructions, at any second. Reading the signals right in front of one’s face, in real-time and being able to choose the most appropriate path in response to the conditions at hand, is what’s called for. If one goes into this effort thinking that one knows what all the variables are, sure of one’s self, one is very likely to fail to hit the target.

No one wants this. No one would have chosen to have crude oil wash up on the beaches or engulf sea turtles, pelicans, shrimp and people’s lives. But here we are with no clearly identified enemy or single cause for this catastrophe. Instead there is layer upon layer of complexity; interwoven need and desire. It’s impossible to sort out where one starts and another leaves off. What is blindingly apparent is that this is an opportunity to look deep into each other’s eyes and proclaim as loudly or as quietly as the situation calls for, that I will not give up. I will not leave you to fend for yourself. I will not turn away. I will look to see what is needed and I will give that very thing.

For those of us who love the Gulf, this is our chance to love it and all her near and far inhabitants, all the more.

3 Smart Girlz is coordinating the deployment of a group of students from Upaya’s chaplaincy program to Louisiana the week of August 19 – 26th. They will be with some of the people hardest hit by the Deepwater Horizon disaster, bearing witness, serving in compassionate ways and with their presence. If you would like to participate, please contact penny (at) If you would like to make a contribution to help offset the expenses of this trip, we gratefully welcome your partnership! You may send a check to 3 Smart Girlz, LLC, 400 Capital Circle SE, Suite 18154, Tallahassee, Fl 32301 or use the Paypal button here. Partner contributions are used 100% directly on expenses incurred by the chaplains.

About Maia

I've been practicing and studying the Buddha way since 1994, and exploring the question "What is engaged Buddhism?" since the late 90s. As former executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and editor of its journal, Turning Wheel, I had the honor of meeting and working with many practitioners of engaged dharma, including Roshi Joan Halifax, Joanna Macy, Alan Senauke, and Robert Aitken Roshi. I write about socially engaged Buddhism on my blog, "The Jizo Chronicles," as well as on the theme of personal and collective freedom on my website, "The Liberated Life Project." Through my Five Directions Consulting, I offer support to individuals and organizations who aspire to integrate awareness into their work.

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  1. Pingback: Jizo Celebrates His/Her First Birthday « The Jizo Chronicles

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