Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Chilean miners

It looked like giving birth. The miner rose from the belly of the cave, and came up through the tunnel, and when he finally emerged there were tears, because we had seen a miracle.

And then another came. And then another.

Seventy days ago the copper mine in Chile had collapsed, leaving 33 men trapped 2,000 feet down. For more than two weeks most experts assumed they were dead. But no one knew for sure, and one day a drill made it into an open area, and when the drill bit came back up there was a note attached, written in red.

Estamos bien en el refugio los 33. The 33 of us are fine in the shelter.

The challenge became how to get them out. Drilling experts from a dozen countries pitched in. NASA designed the escape pod. It took nearly two more months to drill a hole big enough and safe enough. In the meantime crews sent down food and water and a video camera.

And that is how the world got to watch from inside the mine on Tuesday night as the first miner rode to the surface, a slow rocket to heaven.

His name is Florencio Ávalos. He hugged his family and the Chilean president. The next one to surface, Mario SepĂșlveda, threw up his arms and roared as if he had just scored the goal to win the World Cup.

The third one got me.

His name is Juan Illanes. He's in his early '50s, with a thick mustache, and in the dark shades he wore to help his eyes adjust, he looked a little like Richard Petty.

He got out of the pod, and his wife was standing a few feet away, but they couldn't embrace just yet -- workers were removing some of his gear. While that happened, the CNN camera showed her face. She wasn't crying. She wasn't beaming with joy. She had this little half-smile that every spouse in the world has seen on the back side of hard times, that look of Thank God, and I love you, and we just barely dodged that one.

(As I post this 12 miners have made it out, and if the plan continues to work, they should be all on the surface in the next day or two.)

We live in such an angry and fearful time. But sometimes it all falls away, and for a brief moment you can believe like a child, because at 1 in the morning on an ordinary weekday, we make miracles: A man rises from the tomb, steps out into the world, hugs his wife, and they are born again.


HokieTT said...

Well said, Tommy. I stayed up to watch the first rescues, too. It reminded me of the moon landing because of the inaccessibility of the site, the grainy video, the tiny 'capsule', the grand scale of collaboration involved in the mission, the monumental achievement of the mission's success, and a host of other factors.

Moreover, I am incredibly impressed with the spirit and will to live of these men throughout this. Their first message wasn't 'HELP US!' It was "We are fine." The energy shown by those who have already been rescued was just as touching. This is a great story, and I'm sure Disney and a litany of others will take artistic licence to change it, but I want to remember this as it really happened.

There are a lot of horrible things going on in the world, both near and far...but then there's something like this that shows the good in humanity.

Lynne Stevenson said...

Thank God, something positive and uplifting to focus on instead of all of the gloom and doom of recent days. Hope and pray that all are rescued alive and healthy.

Anonymous said...

Many people from many different countries have been working together to help free the miners. This is a brief glimmer of what I believe to be "peace on earth."

molly said...

Goosebumps. That last paragraph of yours gave me goosebumps.

I knew who to look up for a lovely, not sappy, just perfect write-up about the miners.

Thanks Tommy,

(M. Bettiga)

tommy tomlinson said...

Molly! I do miss you so. What are you up to these days?

Jack Hart said...

Tommy, if I had been miner #21, my wife would have met me there, cut of my most private parts, threw me back in the hole, threw the mistress in the hole with me and told her, "you can have him now!"
I too waited on baited breath for them to come out..truly amazing!

Past Expiry said...

I have some Chilean Miner cartoons at my blog that are free for you to use if you are interested.

Anonymous said...

Tommy...I love the way that you write! I have missed you alot lately but I am glad to find a way to read you again. You are the Kays Gary of this generation. Long may you serve our community.