[Note: today's Inquirer editorial]
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS has called it “the longest underground nightmare in history”--but with a miraculous caveat. “It ended safely--and faster than anyone expected.”
Indeed, the saga of the 33 Chilean miners trapped for 69 days at an unimaginable depth but now rescued through a risky but flawlessly executed operation, with no loss of life, has captured the imagination of the world as no other recent happening has. Not since the final game of the last World Cup in South Africa has the global community been riveted by real-time images of a single event transpiring on television screens everywhere.
The miners, virtually unknown before this incident, have emerged into a world completely different from the one they had last seen. Now, they’re being feted as heroes and celebrities, embraced and congratulated by heads of state and various dignitaries, their stories and reminiscences about their underground ordeal becoming instant fodder for the 24/7 global news and entertainment mill.
To be sure, the story of how they survived for more than two months at a depth of some 300 meters--how they escaped when the mine collapsed; how they kept their wits about them in the deadening, dead-air darkness; how they interacted with each other and managed to keep the whole group intact and apparently in high spirits through the long, lonely wait for rescue; and, up above, how their families and kin rode out the days of anguish and pain--the sheer panorama of human drama in this story cries out for a neat, sweeping summation, an easily digestible moral lesson.
Even now, even as the TV cameras have yet to decamp from the premises of the San Jose Mine in Chile, their lenses still on the prowl for one more heart-tugging scene to be milked from this instant classic of a world event, it’s not farfetched to think this incredible tale of grit and glory is already on its way to being remade and filtered through the default story-telling instruments of our time: a fine-grained non-fiction book, perhaps, a soaring inspirational movie, a video game--or, more tawdrily, a reality show a la “Survivor,” but this time involving crumbling mine shafts and trapped miners of various ethnicities and persuasions sniping at each other through their ordeal.
Amid the crush of klieg lights and microphones, the plea of Mario Sepulveda, the second miner to be rescued, was bracing to hear: “The only thing I’ll ask of you is that you don’t treat me as an artist or a journalist, but as a miner,” he said. “I was born a miner and I’ll die a miner.”
Ironically, Sepulveda has emerged as the most loquacious and quote-worthy of the rescued group, his assured, wisecracking TV interview right after his ride to safety all but assuring him a long career as a valued guest or interviewee in worldwide programs and newscasts that are bound to revisit, ad nauseam, his and his co-workers’ forced entombment.
There is no gainsaying, of course, the authentically edifying nature of their amazing story. A world more often caught in a daily blizzard of bad news, of unending tales of misery and famine and wars and governmental rot, cannot be blamed if it finds itself caught up in collective jubilation, erupting in whoops of joy at the hour-by-hour ascent from the darkness of men so obscure and ordinary before this time that, were it not for this gripping accident, they would never have
merited a second look.
These brave men deserve the heartfelt cheers that welcomed them back to the light of day. But, henceforth, they also deserve to be left alone--for a while, or for as much as they want to. They need time and space to get their bearings back, to savor simple private joys in the company of family and friends, to re-orient themselves to a radically different environment where their changed status might now prove a
source of new burdens and strains on their battered spirits. They survived, all right, but they also went through so much. The world should let them catch their breath for now.
Beyond the general exhilaration and feelings of warmth at the happy conclusion of this saga are questions that need to be answered: Why do miners continue to be subjected to such terrifying risks? What safety standards were neglected and how thorough were the security preparations that a mine that far down could cave in and entomb 33 human beings, beyond ordinary rescue for 69 nightmarish days?
The families of 29 of the 33 workers have reportedly filed suit against the mine operators, seeking $12 million in damages. After the euphoria, the hard truths. May they emerge intact and unscathed as well.
Alfonso Avalos (R), father of Chilean miner Florencio Avalos, and Wilson Avalos, brother of Florencio, embrace each other after Florencio was brought to the surface on October 13, 2010 following a 10-week ordeal in the collapsed San Jose mine, near Copiapo, 800 km north of Santiago, Chile. Avalos was the first of 33 to be lifted to the surface. By Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images. [Photo h/t: The Daily Dish]