30 years of healing: On hope and forgiveness

Can we forgive – and then take what we have learned to better protect the earth?

Rev. Belle Mickelson holds Lupine the lamb at St. George's Episcopal Church on Sunday, April 22, 2018. (Photo by Chelsea Haisman/for The Cordova Times)

Editor’s Note: This is part of a sermon originally delivered on March 17 by the Rev. Belle Mickelson of Cordova based on Luke 13:31-35.

Jesus was there crying with us when the oil spill happened. And He’s been guiding us all along. We just need to listen and keep listening.

On March 24, 1989, I was living here in Cordova.

“There’s been an oil spill,” someone said.

“I don’t have time for that,” I responded.

Little did I realize how it would takeover my life. Soon we were all doing two jobs: our own and another one doing anything we could to clean-up or help out.  It was a sunny spring and summer – just beautiful – and only 50 miles away everything was covered in black goo. Sea otters, sea birds, fish, eagles, whales – all were dying.

We didn’t realize it – but for a long time, the fishing way of life died, too. It took 20 years for the Prince William Sound seine fishery to really return. The shrimp and crab fisheries have just recently come back – but not our spring herring.

Yes, there have been other factors contributing to this loss such as ecosystem and ocean temperature changes. But there is no doubt that the oil spill dramatically and drastically affected fish – especially spawning herring, salmon eggs, and crab larvae. Far worse than these environmental effects – were the social impacts: depression, drinking, drugs, broken families, loss of income and a way of life.

Yes, there have been some good things coming out of the spill. Today the oil companies are much better prepared with contingency plans, escort services, double hulls, SERVS and the Prince William Sound Regional Citizen’s Advisory Council.

We have the Prince William Sound Science Center and the Cordova Family Resource Center. Several friends and I wrote a preschool through high school oil spill prevention curriculum. We all know so much more about the hazards of oil.   Shortly after the oil spill, one of the preschools in town had kids dip their hands in oil and make hand print art. We would never do that today!

One of our responsibilities is to help others. The people from Canada’s British Columbia and so many other oil-spill experienced countries rallied to help us –and we in turn helped our south eastern neighbors when the Gulf of Mexico spill happened.

One message from the Exxon Valdez oil spill is that prevention is critical! Keep that oil where it’s supposed to be – in the tankers, in the boats, in the pipeline and in many cases still in the ground – because accidents happen. Government environmental regulations and citizen oversight are so important.

Another message was that alcohol (and drugs I might add) wreck havoc in our lives. I’d like to imagine that if the crew of the Exxon Valdez thought about what could and would happen – they wouldn’t have gone to that Valdez bar. Yet there are still people drinking and driving. We need to work harder on sobriety.

And we need to know we are all part of the problem. We all use oil. All of us are needed. We can be part of the solution, one choice at a time. Walking or driving; lights off or on when we leave the room; a neighborhood ball game or watching TV; a contribution to help people in need – or extra “stuff” for ourselves; a two-minute or 15 minute shower.

It takes oil to run the hot water heater; to heat factories; to make the products we see in stores; to transport them to stores. Get your family together and investigate what you can do. Live more simply. Save some oil for your grandchildren and great grandchildren; save some money; save cultures in other parts of the world. Maybe even stop a war that might have something to do with oil. Vote. The generations to come will thank you.

So many of our biblical heroes had a vision – and my vision is that we here in Cordova like all the great cloud of witnesses before us – will help in the healing of Prince William Sound. It’s not going to be easy. Grief runs deep. And one of the hardess parts of healing is forgiveness.

Can we forgive – and then take what we have learned to better protect the earth?

Look around. What can you do to help? Together we can be a force for healing – and peace among nations as we pass this beautiful earth on to the generations to come.

The Rev. Belle Mickelson is the rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church. Find her online at cordovaepiscopal.org and reddragoncordova.org. She also travels bringing music to village schools with dancingwiththespirit.orgLast year Dancing with the Spirit spent 37 weeks in villages.