10 January 2011

Into the light

Wiping tears in front of the television again. Really.


Wiping tears in front of the television again. Really.

But this time, I'm sure you agree, tears are unavoidable: I'm watching the Chilean rescue mission. As you read this, the last man has ridden the rescue capsule to safety.

I watched the youngest miner, an 18-year-old, collapse with relief on his father's shoulder; and the oldest - a dashingly handsome 63-year-old who has, CNN reports, been a miner since the age of 12 - sink to the ground for a few seconds of prayer between the kisses and the hospital helicopter. I've seen the hug between a miner and his love, who proposed to him while he was trapped. I've seen handsome presidents stand shoulder to shoulder and murmur words of praise and appreciation to their people. Strangers' tears of joy, really, are catchy (and TV, sometimes, really is fabulous).

We've all tried to put ourselves into the boots of the 33 men who've lived the life of moles for more than two months. For much of that time, death was a very real prospect.

In addition to the mental and emotional challenges posed by the situation, some of the miners reportedly had health challenges - respiratory and kidney problems, and hypertension. Others developed conditions while they were underground. A few of them, according to the psychological commentary, will struggle mightily with the real world.

As one of the rescued men was coming up, there must have been hundreds of thousands of us around the world experiencing sympathy palpitations: he is reportedly severely claustrophobic. I've an inkling of what claustrophobia feels like - it has hit me once or twice trapped in a slow-moving crowd, or in stuck lifts. It hit me in the Cango Caves. It's distressing, and it takes mental discipline to ride it out. I can understand why claustrophobia would make staying underground almost preferable to climbing into that tight pod for a 15-minute winch through a slender passage drilled through solid rock.

The rescuers are the world's darlings today. And so are the miners: by going into that claustrophobic situation in order to make a living, and having the nightmare happen, and now coming out with shouts of triumph and souvenir rocks for the rescuers, these men have made us conscious of a kind of heroism we hope we're never called on to find within ourselves. All over the world, miners make a very basic living by heading down the shafts daily, and praying that they head back up when their shift is up. They, particularly, will know what the trapped miners would have experienced during their long wait.

I think what all of us must take out of this is a renewed determination to consciously engage with the immense privilege of daily life - the spring sunshine, the free movement of our minds and our limbs, the sound of birds, the morning coffee, the touch of those we love. I think thanks is due.

(Heather Parker, Health24, October 2010)




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