Over thirty years ago, my sister, Mary Ann, had a stroke. From then until now her body has begun to deteriorate so severely that she can no longer move, and can barely speak. With less than a handful of words at her disposal, she chooses most often to say “I love you.” After two decades of struggling inside a broken body, she has distilled herself into a joyous human being, filled with love, appreciation, and humor. Buddha-like, she savors every moment. When she eats institutional food of processed meat, vegetables, and juice, it’s as if she has the finest gourmet chef in the world, and every bite is a miracle.
My big sister has become my hero. On January 9, 2009, she announced with one of her words, “no,” that she would no longer take her medications. Lynn, my wife and an RN by training, said she would probably feel better without taking them. Lynn was right. I realized, though, that Mary Ann must be very tired to make this decision. Tired of living in her body, tired of medications, and just plain tired, period! And it may have been a signal that she was ready to leave. So I thought, ‘well, I need to do something to show her how much I love her.’ I wanted her to know that I understood how much she has done, I know who she is, and I respected her deeply for it. I also wanted to give her something to enjoy.
Last Thanksgiving I was able to see her, and I played some music for her. When I played, tears welled in her eyes. She laughed, and cried, and moved her body as if she wanted to dance. She loved it. So to pay her tribute, I decided to make her a record; this was on a Friday. On Saturday and Sunday I went to a small basement recording studio in Branson, where we live, and recorded some songs for Mary Ann. I played to her; as I sang I imagined her next to me, and when I was done I mailed the CD overnight for her to hear.
Since then, the collection of songs I recorded for my sister (which has now become an album) has managed to take on a life and purpose of its own. This new-found purpose began with the title song of the album, which is “If Ever I Cease to Love,” the theme song for Mardi Gras. Our family is from New Orleans, and this is a song we have sung all our lives. Lynn and I wrote a few new verses, and our friend Linda Lewis wrote the verse on Hurricane Katrina.
Katrina was devastating to us, and to our family. It was such an enormous disaster because politics and money took precedence over people. That has not changed. Currently, the largest ecological disaster in the world is taking place, with twenty five square miles of Louisiana wetlands disappearing into the Gulf of Mexico each year. The technology exists to fix the situation. We know what to do, and we know how to do it, but because the public at large is unaware of the problem, we lack the public will to begin the work.
My point is this: if my sister can overcome the challenge of a lifetime, together, we can do anything. When we join our hands and voices to this effort, we will correct this problem. When we let the Mississippi and natural waterways rebuild the deltas, when we re-grass the deltas and rebuild the barrier islands, we will stop this catastrophe. Then, who can stop as great a force as the ripple effect? As a nation, we can take the knowledge and expertise gained in this process and bring it to other endangered estuaries on our planet. We can have a global impact.
Now, what’s going to happen if we don’t address this issue? Twenty-five to forty percent of all seafood consumed in this country will be gone. Fifty to seventy five percent of all migratory bird populations in this country will be severely stressed. Hundreds of species of plants and animals, fish and fowl, will lose their last remaining habitat, and the coastline will recede to Baton Rouge. Millions of people will be displaced by the water. It will become a catastrophe beyond comprehension. And it is something we can fix.
So, I am asking you, please help begin this process. Donate to the organizations working to save these wetlands and coastal communities, volunteer your time, and spread the word. Let’s pressure the government and every other private or public agency we can think of to join the effort.
“In the end, I have no illusions about the magnitude of the challenges we face. But I have no doubt that we can meet them if we each do our part. So I urge you to get involved, right now, at this defining moment in history.” –President Barack Obama