A Walk on the Beach

I remember a deep feeling of sadness hitting me in that moment. It was a sudden and unexpected physical connection to a tragedy that had claimed 11 human lives and was wreaking extraordinary environmental damage

Do you have a beach? Not one that you literally own, but a go-to beach place, one where you’ve vacationed multiple times over the years? You know, a place where you can say, “Yeah, that’s my beach” (but be careful with your enunciation if you’re reading this aloud to someone).

We’ve got that place in my family – Perdido Key, Florida. We’ve been staying at the same condo for decades, exactly two miles east of the Florida/Alabama state line. Which means it’s a two-mile beach walk away from the Flora-Bama, a truly spectacular dive bar (yes, another pun very much intended). Stop in if you’re ever in the neighborhood.

Next week, my son will visit our beach for the first time, and I’m excited for another generation of Laniers to experience it. It’s a place full of memories for us, and I’m sure we’ll create many new ones with him. For now, I’d like to share one particular memory I have from our beach.

My family and I spent Labor Day of 2010 down there, a couple of weeks after I began my third year of law school. On April 20 of that year, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill began. Given how interesting that oil spill was from both an environmental and a legal liability standpoint, I followed the news closely. At that point, the well still hadn’t been sealed (that would officially happen on September 19).

I was strolling along the beach the day we arrived, and I remember seeing at the shoreline what looked like a flat, black rock about the size of a half-dollar. I’d been picking up seashells on that beach for two decades, and this was something I’d never seen before. I stooped down to grab it and dust the speckling of sand away when it dawned on me. It was a tarball – a clump of weathered oil from the Deepwater Horizon well.

I remember a deep feeling of sadness hitting me in that moment. It was a sudden and unexpected physical connection to a tragedy that had claimed 11 human lives and was wreaking extraordinary environmental damage. Up until that moment, the disaster was more of a news story in a distant place that I found intriguing. In an instant, the oil spill became much more real and grave.

Reflecting back, I find myself surprised that nearly seven years have passed since the oil spill. It feels like just a couple of years ago, even though we’ve already seen a major motion picture of the story enter and leave box offices.

For me, Deepwater Horizon and that tiny little tarball I held years ago have an enduring message. They represent humanity’s capacity for bringing devastation and destruction to our oceans. For that reason, it is a disaster worth remembering.

But I also believe that there is a flip-side to this coin. For as much capacity as we have to harm our oceans, we also have the ability to heal them. All it takes is the courage to try, coupled with equal parts innovation and hard work.

Which leads me to the story I will tell in next week’s blog – a truly amazing story that goes by the name “Net-Works.” See y’all next week.

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