As of this day, the trapped Chilean miners are being brought forth from the bowels of the Earth one by one, hoisted through an escape tunnel in a tiny, cramped capsule to finally see the sky for the first time in about 70 days.
What is unfolding is the climax of such an epic of human courage and endurance, as well as ingenuity, that it takes the breath away. The story of the Chilean miners is one of those things that makes one joyous to be alive and human. In the midst of war, economic malaise, and government mendacity, there are still some things that are good and uplifting.
To recap, on Aug. 5, a cave-in trapped 33 miners over 2,000 feet underground. All of them managed to make their way to a shelter area where they waited for the next 17 days, alone, and for all the world considered likely dead and buried. One can only imagine what it took to keep from going insane in the dark, in stifling, nearly-90 degree heat, isolated from the rest of the world as thoroughly as if they were on a space ship at the far side of the galaxy.
The discovery of the Chilean miners safe, at least for the time being, and alive was a cause of great rejoicing for the Chileans, then celebrating the bicentennial of their country. It was certainly a joyous occasion for the trapped miners. Now they knew that people knew they were alive, that the prayers and good wishes of their friends and relatives, their countrymen, and much of the world were flowing in their direction.
Food, water, and other amenities were sent down to ease the burden of their wait while an army of engineers and other experts worked to find a way to pluck them out of the Earth. NASA scientists, who have studied what has to be done for people in isolation, lent advice and technical support. (And that must have been a balm to an agency with a President determined to break the pride of the organization that landed men on the Moon.)
The escape passage was cut through the rock and earth, a capsule constructed and tested. And then the extraction began. As the sister of one of the miners said, it was as if the Earth was giving birth to the miners.
Indeed, what the Chilean miners will experience will be a kind of rebirth. They went into the ground as physically and mentally tough men, skilled in the science of extracting the Earth’s treasures. They are emerging as heroes.
To be a hero simply for surviving will be a burden that each man will have to face according to his gifts and character. For a time, nothing will be denied them, a thing that can overwhelm a man in ways that cannot be imagined by most. That, and the likely post traumatic stress, will prove a test for the miners.
And eventually there will come a time when no one buys them drinks anymore and women don’t throw themselves at them and men do not stop to shake their hands. The slow dissolving of the mixed blessings of fame may be burdensome for some of the miners. Others, one suspects, will find it comforting to at least be able to fade into ordinary life again, unbothered and all but unrecognized.
Source: Nearly half of miners now free in Chile rescue, Frank Bajak and Vivian Sequera, AP, October 13th, 2010