Daddy's final resting place: The value of remembrance.

The following piece was recently posted at the educational website Voices on the Gulf where my English 1oo2 class is taking part in a community of teachers and students responding to the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill.

Before last summer, I never imagined that I would see the worst, most ghastly environmental disaster in history take place in off-shore Louisiana, not far from where I grew up and very near to the area in the Gulf where I worked in the 1980’s as an oilfield mud engineer working on rigs near the mouth of the Mississippi River.  The disaster that began last April and lasted most of the summer seemed like a nightmare that would only have happened in a third world country, maybe a Middle Eastern country, where nations don’t share America’s values for the environment or industrial safety.  But alas, there the fractured wellhead lay on the ocean floor, billowing millions of barrells of oil in frantic effusion from the bowels of the earth, day after day, week after week, month after month, ad nauseum.

Since the disaster was so unimaginable and unthinkable before it happened, in the aftermath students in my class last semester engaged in conversations about about how one deals with the unimaginable and the unthinkable.  We agreed it’s a meaningful exercise to pause and look around us, to identify people and places and things that we would hate to lose by carelessly overlooking the possibility that the unimaginable or unthinkable might happen.  By that process, students identified significant issues and personal concerns that led to questions that led to research that led to very rich and rewarding findings.  The students worked with passion on their I-Search projects because their topics were personal and significant.

If I were to approach this assignment this semester, I’d look at where I am now. I recently suffered loss.  My dad passed away just a few weeks ago after a bitter struggle with Alzheimer’s.  We buried him on a cemetery hill overlooking a country church, the New Zion Church in rural St. Tammany Parish north of Covington, Louisiana, a church that he pastored when I was a young boy growing up. His burial plot overlooks the church grounds where my brothers and sisters played, the old church builiding that he helped build with his own hands, and the pasture where Daisy the family milk-cow grazed.  Though the family moved away years ago, New Zion has always been a special place, rich with childhood lore.  But returning there for the funeral and burial awakened deep, sentimental feelings for that place.  And, now that Daddy’s granite headstone will be planted on that hill as long as civilization lasts, and Mama’s alongside since she will have a place next to him when she bids us farewell sometime later,  the marker will stand as a family Beth-el, a monument reminding us to remember our roots, the character of the people in that community who shaped us as kids, and especially our good parents who cared more about our happiness and success than anyone else ever has since.

So a year after Deep Water Horizon and its myriad lessons, as I consider life and important things I’ve overlooked or taken for granted, here’s to remembering Daddy, to remembering New Zion Church, and to remembering that so much of who we are depends so much on places we’ve been.  May we guard remembrance!