Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Out of the Depths 

The drama that gripped the world is over. The miners have been rescued. CNN has put together a video montage for those of you who didn't get a chance to see the rescue as it was happening.

In China, the drama has grabbed the attention of the Chinese people, but has also been a source of profound embarrassment for the Chinese government. It just hasn't been a good week for China's international image. First the Peace Prize, and now this.

In China, the annual death toll for mining disasters usually numbers in the thousands. It is almost accepted as the cost of getting the coal out of the ground. Maybe it isn't exactly a fair comparison, because I remember talking to a couple hard rock miners from Colorado one summer when I was working in the fish cannery in Alaska. They told me that coal mining is much more dangerous than hard rock mining. Hard rock mines are usually much more stable. Still, the cost of coal in China was once reported as 4 lives per million tons. That's a lot--even for coal mining. Government officials had to be wincing every time one of those Chilean miners was brought up out of the ground to such extraordinary personal attention. In China, mining disasters tend to be quite impersonal. I guess it's just that the numbers are so great here. It haunts one to think of all the many miners who have been stuck down in some dank cavern alive, daring to hope that they would be rescued, but never again seeing the sun...slowly dying as hope faded. It was almost that way in Chile too. But the ability of individual citizens to make their case without fear of being sent off to a labor camp is much better in countries like Chile. Openness. China is changing ever so slowly. But this extraordinary drama has once more contrasted the secrecy which so often surrounds events like this when they happen in China. They are announced of course, but the details of how things turn out is often hidden.

BBC radio interviewed the President's chaplain, who, interestingly enough, is English. He said that several of the miners were Christians, and several who were not became Christians down in that mine. It is a story that I think we will hear more about in the days to come.

For me, the most compelling moment was at the very end, after all the miners had been rescued. There were still several rescue workers left in the mine, and they were pulled up one by one. When the last one was left, the camera down in the mine showed him talking on the phone to the folks up on top--I think they wanted to keep him from getting panicked, since he was down there all by himself. He kept talking until the capsule descended for the last time. Then he got up, bowed to the camera, and made his exit. The scene of that empty deserted cave that held those men captive for so long was something I don't think a person can ever quite forget.

After the last rescuer had reached the surface, the president gave a little speech commending the rescuers. Typical politician, he went a little overboard in his closing remarks: "On the Day of Judgment, we will call you guys to come and rescue us from where some of us are going to end up." I think that would qualify as hyperbole.

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