A triumph of courage

The terrible plight of 33 Chilean miners gripped the attention of people around the world. It has been estimated that over 1 billion people were watching the rescue effort, an audience rivalling, perhaps even surpassing, that of the FIFA World Cup.

Leaders from around the world, including Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and many others expressed their happiness at the rescue of the miners. Prime Minister Stephen Harper joined in the chorus of well wishing, saying: “Today, we join the rest of the world in celebrating the best possible outcome: the successful rescue of the miners who returned to their loved ones safe and sound. On behalf of all Canadians, I extend our country’s warmest wishes to the miners, their families and friends on this truly emotional day. This remarkable triumph over adversity is a tribute to the human spirit.”

Such an outpouring of support from around the world speaks to the fact that the Chilean miners overcame incredible odds and showed tremendous courage in the face of a horrific situation. Trapped more than half a kilometre below ground for 69 days they managed to escape with their lives, and make it back home to their families.

It’s fine to read about it, or watch the story on television or YouTube, but try to imagine what it would be like to be trapped underground for more than two months. You can’t see the sun; you have almost no room to move, and you have absolutely nothing to do but wait for rescue. You have a bit of tuna to eat every other day, and you spend some days desperately drinking water from a dirty, oil-stained canister. You are stuck down there with 33 of your fellow workers, trapped, unable to reach your family for weeks. You aren’t even sure if the world knows you are alive. Imagine that somehow, through all of this, you manage to keep your composure, take care of your friends and not lose hope that you will see the sky again. Where would you find the strength to do that? How would you find the will to survive? For each of us the answer would likely be different, but who among us knows whether we could do it?

Perhaps it is when we ask ourselves that question, and search for the answer, that we can see why the story of the Chilean miners transfixed the world. The things we tend to complain about every day are so trivial and quite often completely pointless. How quickly would our day-to-day problems melt away if we were trapped in the darkness of a mineshaft? I think that many of those who watched the saga of the Chilean miners were imagining themselves in that very situation, imagining being unable to reach those they love, being unable to see the stars or the moon or the sky. Not having the ability to move freely, seeing their world shrunken to rocks only metres away

What I find most amazing about the Chilean miners is that even in a situation in which they seemingly had no control, they still managed to control the darkest parts of their nature. There were no fights, no violence and nobody thought for a moment of sacrificing one individual miner for what could have been called the “common good” of the rest. The Chilean miners each recognized that every single one of them, as an individual human being, had the right to live and had the right to emerge from the depths of the Earth to continue their journey through life. They showed an amazing respect for each other’s intrinsic worth and value as a unique and irreplaceable life, and they are an example to all of us, that even when times are tough and the way forward seems hopeless, we still have the inner strength and courage to do what is right.

Spencer Fernando is the International Coordinator at the Manitoban.