2017, High School, Prose
What if we could see exactly how much waste is dumped into the ocean annually? I don’t mean to just see it the way we see newspaper headlines covering the topic and then choose to turn the other way. I mean an authentic image displayed as a sentiment every step taken, bottle of water consumed, and bed slept in. I mean aptly conveyed visualizations equating the damage done to our Earth on the significant section of our planet conveniently positioned from the view of the public.
Imagine the horror: the panicked civilians and morning commuters swimming through sludge and debris, and elementary school students playing on mounds on partially decomposed matter. It isn’t pretty.
What is pretty, then? Consider the surf crashing, coral reefs teeming with vivid life, or the cerulean blue that covers about 71% of our planet . This does not include trash littering coastlines and massive marine life surrendering to death on a sandy shore.
Considering our increasingly aesthetic-driven society, it is incredibly surprising to note that beauty is no longer a universal term. It is applied to a direct image only. It is noticed only temporarily, dismissed, then forgotten. We hoped, for the sake of our children, that the jingle of pennies luring corporate power mongers to dump over 750,000 pounds of waste into the ocean would be trumped with the desire to inhabit an earth worth living in . What is more compelling than a world inherited by generations forthcoming?
Emilie promised that there was a way. We didn’t believe her. Our small southern town, disconnected from the oceanic forces and hounded by sweltering heat, paid little attention to anything with the words “eco” preceding it. Emilie had a paintbrush in her hands and a wild, intangible spirit sparkling in her eyes. Andrew and I agreed to participate. She shoved utensils in our sweaty palms and urged us to begin as soon as possible.
I remember pigtail days with ribbons in my hair. Every summer, we escaped to the open side of the state and climbed sand mounds to dip into the refreshing vat of saltwater. Where waves toppled over me and fish swam around my ankles, I found a fragment of heaven. Thousands of tourists visited annually, and we all enjoyed the same beauty and tranquility the ocean offered us. What do we repay a globe whose peace manifests itself this way? Surely not by piling trash onto it, into it, and deep into the pools of tears it sustains life with until we deem our home uninhabitable … right?
Andrew took the paintbrush Emilie rendered him. One broad fell stroke emerged. Two. Three. The blue he painted was a mixture of ten trillion marvelous hues combined. The wall was warm to the touch, and the colors we added blended seamlessly together. We painted for hours until nightfall.
“It’s lovely so far,” I say, scanning the image we had constructed. “But it’s not like this will make any difference.”
Tons of waste dumped into the ocean each year won’t suddenly be vanquished by a singular wall mural. No degree of painting could remedy a global crisis.
“I know,” Emilie admonished. “However, we have to start somewhere.”
Andrew and I walked home. When I closed my eyes to sleep, I saw sea turtles choking on plastic they believed to be their natural food source. I saw sea anemone fading, their vibrant colors dripping away to reveal gray, lifeless matter. Schools of fish dwindled in size until they vanished completely. I woke up breathless. My only thought was the sheer impossibility of doing anything to save this planet.
As I aged, those revered beach vacations of childhood times still shone as the highlight of my years. It wasn’t until an enormous oil spill threatened the delicate ecosystem along our very own shores that I remembered feeling worried. The beach was a communal gathering of relaxed and carefree spirits. So, why now was I so concerned? Why now could I not dip my bare toes into the teeming water because flecks of brown sludge washed up on the bank? It was then that I knew it was imperative to protect our ocean. The only question remaining was this: how?
The next morning, Emilie, Andrew, and I returned to complete our painting. The three of us finally finished and stepped aside to reveal a winding, swirling picture of waves. Underneath the first layer was an array of marine life. The colors leaped from the wall. Below it was piles of trash. No fish, aquatic plants, or life of any kind inhabited the gray, marred water. The sight was a dismal visualization, yet it was a horrible reality.
Cerulean glimmered awash a wall that was once a construction of plain bricks. People stopped to stare. Mothers holding wailing babies shook their heads in sorrow at the sight. Children gazed in awe. In large letters just above the choppy, painted waves, the words Save our Ocean. Save our Planet. were scrawled. Dismayed by the immediate reaction, Andrew and I were frozen to our places as we gauged the flux of passing civilians. Emilie was confident. She had always been. It was there she said, “It may not be much, but it’s something.”
Our trio was walking downtown when Emilie’s phone began to ring. It was her father.
“Hi, dad,” she said, cradling the device against her ear. Her father was the CEO of a huge business. He was a friendly man, but we all knew his company was the major polluter in our city. He had told Emilie hundreds of times that his company barely contributed to a fraction of the oceanic damage. He had told us all about the idea to paint a mural, that a picture – regardless of how beautiful – would do nothing to change that. Andrew and I held our breaths as the conversation ensued. Emilie’s eyebrows furrowed.
“Yes, I know,” she said. “Yes, exactly. I know.” She paused, eyes widening. “Really?”
Andrew and I held our breaths as Emilie hung up. Suddenly, a wide smile appeared on her face. “The news station called. They want to interview us about our mural, tonight!”
“Do you know what this means?” Andrew asked. “We can influence our community. We could ask for better regulations! We could make this go public!”
We rushed to purchase celebratory ice cream cones. Back home, my parents told me that they had received a similar phone call. At 5, they drove us to the news station. We were ushered into a studio speckled with beaming spotlights. A familiar face, a news reporter visible every night on the station, sat down with us. A picture of the mural, obstructed by a crowd of onlookers gazing up at it, flashed behind us. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
It happened so quickly. We were interviewed. Emilie, Andrew, and I passionately called for a change in state legislation. We wanted big businesses to stop dumping waste into our oceans. The massive body of water that connected every continent to each other was ours to protect. This force we represented tethered us, kids who knew nothing about politics that had met in an art classroom, to every climate activist, foreign diplomat, and small-town hero demanding cleaner oceans and a better world. It was empowering.
From there, a larger news network asked to interview us. Pictures of the mural went viral. It wasn’t until a local politician called Emilie’s dad and informed him that a town committee would be investigating his environmental impact on waste management that we understood the scope of our impact. Emilie’s father was angry for a few days, scrambling to find a way to save his profits. We knew we had to persist, even if it caused the sleepy foundation of our small town to rattle. It was vital to save the ocean.
That cerulean color became a landmark victory. The inspiring swatch of blue was featured on every internet column based within 100 miles from us. Phone calls, texts, and tweets drained the batteries from our phones entirely. We had sparked overwhelming interest in our town and even surrounding ones. We had families concerned for the ocean when before, they had ignored the topic entirely. Local teachers taught their students about ocean pollution and its terrible effects. Grocery stores taped posters concerning responsible recycling on every entryway. We had mobilized an entire town to fight on behalf of our planet. Board members voted with overwhelming support for new recycling laws. News segments featured tips on how to conserve water when showering and brushing teeth. The conversation happened all because of an art project – a simple mural.
Andrew called Emilie and me at 10 pm one night. I shot out of bed and answered. “Hello?” I began, wondering about the purpose of his phone call. Excitedly, Andrew encouraged us to check out a national magazine. It featured a column about how small towns were causing massive positive impacts to the environment. Number one on the list: our town.
The article touted the immense environmental regulations that catalyzed a positive change to our interactions with the ocean. It mentioned Emilie’s father’s business and how it had cut down on hazardous waste by 80%. Contrary to worries posed by the company, revenue had increased exponentially. Our town witnessed a booming economy materialize before our eyes.
The column ended with this last sentence: “The impact of a group of inspired people, no matter how small, has proven to be a driving force of change in this world. Do not be discouraged, because if these small towns can make this amount of change, imagine what we can do if we work together.”
The spirit of that cerulean mural may have not saved the world entirely. In fact, it didn’t even cause a dent in the unimaginable amount of trash dumped into the ocean each year. It did, however, inspire a town to take action. Like the domino effect, we saw a ripple in the tides of towns around us. More recycling programs were started, and the education systems vowed to teach students the truth behind the threat of pollution and environmental issues. Yes, we may not have changed the world. However, Emilie, Andrew, and I showed a small town that little acts speak volumes.
More cerulean murals popped up across the country. I know because Emilie would send pictures of them as she traveled across the country to campaign for climate legislation. She was selected for an internship in Washington where she would work the summer preceding her senior year. Before she left, she promised Andrew and me that she would never stop fighting for positive change to support our ocean. Her father’s business sponsored Andrew, who utilized his immense artistic talents, to make short films about the ocean’s delicate, important ecosystem.
And me? I’m in school studying to become a scientist. I will go on to work towards innovative ways to solve problems our world faces.
I will never forget the mural; how it’s cerulean leaped off the drab brick walls and caused every passerby to stop and observe. It reminds me of the problems we face as a society, but inspires me to continue working towards a change.
Andrew, Emilie, and I met again at the end of summer. We traveled to the beach. The water was still as cool and salty as I remember from my pigtail days. This time, no oil peppered the dense heaps of sand. No plastic bottles or bags were visible. Children’s laughter and the crash of the tide mingled together like a symphony. We snapped a picture of the three of us together, smiling wide, with the ocean’s cerulean waves glimmering in the background.
I’ve noticed, living in a tiny landlocked town, that an overwhelming majority of people only pay attention to problems directly addressing them. Miles away from the ocean, the challenges its ecosystem faces are seemingly unimportant, and, even if they are disastrous, a single person can’t do anything to change that. I knew that ideology was toxic, and I’ve been searching for ways to speak out about it. The story behind Emilie, Andrew, and the narrator stemmed from my desire to make an impact with my own personal skills. As a child, I was too shy to speak in public, but societal issues haunted me. I wanted to help. Only through writing was I able to debate, advocate for change, and defend my views. It is this concept – that everyone has a specific talent to contribute to a cause – that serves as my inspiration. That’s the reason I wrote cerulean. The fictional trio of friends met in an art class. They were all concerned about an ongoing crisis, but felt helpless. It wasn’t until they utilized their painting talents that their community became mobilized to combat an area consumed by sewage, runoff, and waste spills destroying their ocean. I wanted to showcase the enthusiasm to take whatever talents one has and strive to make as much impact as possible. This story proves that, with determination, positive change can be achieved – even by simply painting a mural.