Faraway news from a Chilean mine lets us hope

Some mornings you wake up and you do not want to go to work.

You think: If only I could win the Lotto, if only my car didn't need a new muffler, if only my kids didn't want to kill each other, if only my electric bill wasn't spiking even as the Dow drops.

You open the paper and see stories of toxic sludge and earthquakes and politicians politely referred to as "embattled" when "sleazy" would be a better fit. You read a local story about a trusted hospice worker charged with stealing a 92-year-old widow's wedding ring and think: What kind of world are we running here?

And then you see the story of the miners in Chile.

For more than two months now, the tale of 33 men trapped inside a gold and copper mine nearly half a mile down has spun out, each chapter more improbably hopeful than the last. (Hopeful, until you run into words like "entombed," which make you wish for one of those bland, imprecise "embattleds" again.)

For 17 days after a landslide caused a tunnel to collapse, no one knew if all those fathers and sons and husbands and brothers were dead or alive down there, not until the engineers finally broke through.

The note that came up from the safe chamber where they were living said: All 33 of us are fine in the shelter. They survived by rationing an emergency supply of tuna and peaches and crackers and milk meant to last only a couple of days.

And could someone please send down some toothbrushes?

For some reason, there was relief in that, in men trapped below the earth wanting to brush their teeth. It would not be an exaggeration to say their countrymen went wild with relief, as did some of us a little farther away.

They planted 33 flags there and the families made a tent city called Camp Hope. They sang their national anthem. They were told it could be Christmas before anyone down there saw daylight again. Okay. They would wait.

The men sent up notes. Patience and faith, one wrote. A video camera lowered into the mine showed some of them waving.

It's hard to imagine the kind of work those men did daily even before this happened, heading down into a mine to earn a paycheck. It's impossible to imagine being there all those weeks, in that heat, unable to see the people you most want to see, even if you weren't thinking anything like that when you went off to work that last time.

The rescue kept getting closer and more real. They came up with that caged capsule to be lowered down to bring them up one by one. The men in the mine argued over who would be last out — not because they were madly scrambling to be first, but because they wanted to be last. Amazing.

This week, a woman waiting told a reporter that once her brother is out, she will kick his backside before he goes into a mine again. You said it, sister.

Today, you get to hope they see daylight.

When it's over, you can expect a flood of book contracts, of stories in People, of appearances on Oprah, all the insanity that comes with our peculiar brand of instant celebrity, as cheap and fast as drive-through french fries.

But that would be okay.

Because it would mean they are saved, back in the everyday, boring world, in the daylight with the rest of us.

Faraway news from a Chilean mine lets us hope 10/12/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 12, 2010 7:56pm]

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