Friday, June 4, 2010
A New Virgil Arrives on a Beam of Venusian Light
It is now six weeks since the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. The combined "top kill" and "junk shot" operations have both officially failed, and BP itself seems about to go down as well. Who will pay for and carry on the clean-up if that happens? The U.S. Justice Department has announced the launch of a criminal investigation into the cause(s) if the spill, having discovered that BP alone is responsible for 97% of safety violations in the industry. (Exxon for instance, has only one.) BP has now lost $75 billion in market value, and oil has begun to reach the shores of Mississippi and Alabama, and is currently edging into the Florida Panhandle. The nightmare continues.
I had another flash-fractal moment on Saturday night as I was dining out in a Japanese restaurant with my friends Roger and his lady, Barbara. Roger is an extremely jolly, convivial member of my salon, who loves to eat and drink and laugh. He proceeded to order two "Blue Lagoon" cocktails in a row. They were very blue, and I could not stop my mind from musing that this had to be the most ironic drink of the century--soon to be the only blue lagoon (nicely decorated in this case with slices of green lime and orange) left to us after everything else has been permeated with oil.
"Cut and Cap," the latest strategy to saw off a portion of the leaking pipe, install a new cap, and then pump some of the oil onto a ship, has run into a glitch: the diamond-edged saw being used for the sawing got stuck in the pipe. A pair of giant shears have been comandeered to replace it. "There may be trouble ahead," as Fred Astaire sang to Ginger Rogers during the 1930s Depression, so "let's face the music and dance." My job, it seems, is to lighten up. If this weren't so menacing, so appallingly tragic, it would make for some wonderful slapstick comedy, with BP playing Charlie Chaplin's part, or maybe the Marx Brothers.
Saturday also brought the arrival by post of a newly published book by my old friend, Stephanie Mills, an environmental writer: "On Gandhi's Path: Bob Swann's Work for Peace and Community Economics." It was accompanied by a 3-page letter. Stephanie, it seems, is as distressed by the dramaturgy of the Gulf as I am. "Today," she wrote, "in anticipation of writing you, I caught up with Virgil a little bit, and much appreciated your weighing the pros and cons of disregarding the awful news. Little Miss Eco-Bummer here hasn't been winning any popularity contests with talk of the Gulf oil spill...Indeed I kind of threw myself out of a tea party this afternoon when my girlfriends kept trying to forestall my lamentations...with encomia about how shifting focus and positive attitudes worked wonders for their bad moods. I should quit trying to inflict my dire prognosis on innocent supper companions and let them get on with enjoying their lives. Even though I'm drawn to the worst news like a moth to a flame, it is not a kindness--nor even constructive--to pass it along." It was great to reconnect and resonate with an old friend and colleague who is as distressed as I am.
On Sunday, my friend Jane arrived for a visit with her son. Emerson, bringing with her a gift of the most take-one's-breath-away, stylish, cute, kissable, resplendent alligator addition to the Virgil family (see photo above). Readers will be familiar with my reliance on synchronicity as a trigger for what I need to write about next. Its spectacular contrast to Orange Alligator-- burning out his circuits over the oil spill's cascading effects now permanently disturbing the relations between earth, water, plants, animals, and people--heralded the need for a change of mood. I understood the theme of needing to lighten up even before I found myself inexplicably reading an essay by Lucien Steil (in American Arts Quarterly) about the metaphysical archeology of LIGHTHOUSES.
According to this stunning writer, lighthouses can be seen as potential guardian angels watching over the coordination of the poles and nodes of the world. Lighthouses are markers of resistance and faith against the forces of darkness and dissolution, vitaI lamps of beauty, reason, harmony, wisdom, strength, safeguarding us in a world of dangerous chaos. While civilization is being critically threatened, Steil proposes, lighthouses can inspire us to encompass beauty and harmony in our actions and our works.
As "axis mundi," a monumental magic candle stretching between the volcanic fires of earth and the incandescent light of the sky, lighthouses serve in balancing and controlling the integrity and constancy of telluric fields and geodesic centers of land, sea, and sky. Steil even likens them to compassionate hermits who, by the power of their prayers and thoughts, attract beauty and love and are expressive of cosmic coordination.
"Their express purpose is to carry light in the most remarkable and visible manner, so that even distant ships can be warned or guided. Even through the darkest nights, through the most opaque and starless universe, heavy storms and fogs, the lighthouse's warm and familiar signals can be perceived," the author writes.
Something about this essay seems to conjure an atmosphere of the world as a benevolent place--offering the lighthouse as a symbol of sanctuary and shelter against the deep malaise that is now threatening our collective well-being. While it's signal light is both warning and distress call, it also marks a place of refuge, safety, and sanctuary. Perhaps in dark times what all this means is that we must somehow find our inner lighthouse.