Miners' Rescue is a Mythic Tale for the Ages
By Sam Johnson
Flashback -- October 16, 1987.
We sat transfixed in front of the TV with our 4 month-old KatyAnna nearby.
Like many others, we were watching the “around the clock coverage” of then fledgling CNN news channel, their TV cameras focused on the opening of a small eight inch wide pipe of an abandoned well sticking out of the ground in Midland, Texas.
Then she finally appeared, head wrapped in white bandages, cradled by the rescue worker.
“Baby Jessica” was alive and safe!
After almost 60 hours trapped inside the pipe 22 feet underground, the story of 18 month old “Baby Jessica” McClure had captured the hearts of millions of people world-wide.
The coverage of the event by CNN helped establish the channel as the leader in the new concept of 24-hr. media access to “events as they happen,” the brainchild of Ted Turner.
The live coverage of baby Jessica’s plight and rescue mesmerized so many Americans, it reportedly prompted President Regan to say that “everybody in America became godfathers and godmothers of Jessica while this was going on.”
Mary and I looked at our little KatyAnna, then at each other, sighed and smiled.
It was a good ending. All’s well than ends well.
Flashback -- October 12-13, 2010
I sat transfixed in front of the TV watching live coverage of the rescue of the “Treinta Tres,” the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped for 70 days at the bottom of the San Jose copper and gold mine, 2,000 feet underground.
It was an amazing rescue that held my attention as I watched off and on from late Tuesday evening when the first stage of the rescue attempt began, until it ended 22 hours later Wednesday night.
And again, I wasn’t the only one watching.
It has been reported that approximately 8.5 million people around the world watched the TV coverage of the rescue of the Chilean miners. CNN viewership is said to have doubled during this time.
Okay, so why?
Why do events like this captivate the attention of so many people?
I’ve been thinking about this and have a few ideas:
• A Mythic Story of Life, Death, and Resurrection
It seems to me, one of the reasons events like these capture the hearts and minds of so many people is because the events are dramatic stories that deal with archetypal issues of life, death, and resurrection.
These events are “real life” stories with all the elements of a Greek tragedy, heroic epic, or Hollywood movie.
The story of the miners certainly has a mythic quality to it.
Robert Thompson, Syracuse University professor of television and popular culture noted while commenting on the rescue efforts, “The miners are trapped underground, in a place like hell itself -- claustrophobic, dark, fetid -- and they come up like they were resurrected. Western civilization doesn’t come up with stories much better.”
So, couple this dramatic classic story line with a cast of characters made up of universal personality types that we recognize from our daily life (“Super Mario” Sepulveda, the loud, boisterous morale-builder; Omar Reygada “the organizer;” Yonni “Dr. House” Barrios, the paramedic with a wife and mistress who met for the first time waiting at the rescue site), then add the suspense of the rescue itself.
How can we not be captivated by events like these?
• Walking in Their Shoes
Finally, it seems to me that one of the reasons so many people are fascinated by events like these is the human capacity for empathy and sympathy (also referred to as “There But For the Grace of God Go I,” or “Walking A Mile In Their Shoes”).
Many of us can only imagine what it must be like to be trapped underground in a dark, claustrophobic space described as “hell itself” with temperatures of 90 degrees or more and 90 percent humidity, not knowing when, or if, an escape or rescue could be made.
Then, to have to deal with these conditions AND struggle with the attending fears of being buried alive or slowly suffocating, contemplating these things every day for more than 2 months is really unimaginable.
“How can they manage to live in those conditions for so long and NOT go crazy?” we ask ourselves.
“What must they be thinking? How do they cope?”
”Could we do it?”
Just as we became godfathers and godmothers to baby Jessica during her ordeal, many of us have, I think, bonded with our 33 Chilean brothers as we’ve watched and contemplated their situation, hoping and praying for the best.
It seems to me there is a universal bond shared by humans, to empathize and feel compassion in tragic situations such as these, where hope springs eternal.
Thankfully, this dramatic story had a good ending.
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