watch. rescue from the mine.

At the end of 2005, I had the opportunity to join my parents in visiting my brother. He was living in the Andes Mountains of Bolivia working with locals in some of the small villages there, and our visit was his vacation. We spent most of our time enjoying each other’s company and being tourists in Peru and Bolivia. The cities of Lima, Cusco (where we welcomed 2006), and La Paz, the wonders Machu Piccu, Lake Titicaca, and the Ballestas Islands, and the beaches of Paracas all offered adventure and experience in the forms of dune buggy rides, boat tours, bus rides, meals, and market shopping. Our visit over the 12 Days of Christmas ended too quickly. We said goodbye in La Paz knowing it would only be another short year before we were reunited, and the three of us headed back to Lima for a 12 hour layover.

In those 12 hours, the real adventure began. We had left our translator behind and were now dependent on my dad’s (better than expected) memory of Spanish from high school. Unfortunately, some Spanish did not get us far, literally, when a taxi driver took full price for half a trip, dropping us off nowhere near our desired destination. It was the only time during our entire trip that I felt advantage had been taken of us, the inconvenience and dishonesty bothering me most. Thankfully, an honest driver carried us the rest of the way.

I was in desperate need of the familiar following our transportation mishap, and that is exactly what I found as we sat down at a restaurant for lunch. Language differences faded in the presence of convention, and my simple Sesame Street Spanish vocabulary seemed to communicate both my needs and my gratitude. “Esta bien” and “gracias” were the only words I could find, but I left feeling understood.  

I was reminded of that feeling and the ability to understand despite language differences yesterday as I watched many of the 33 Miners of the Chilean mine accident emerge from the ground. There were no subtitles, but the expressions and emotions told the story. And as rituals developed over the course of the rescues, I found myself forgetting Spanish was being spoken.

Here are some of the sights and sounds that told the story above ground.

  • sirens of the ambulance waiting to transport the miner to the triage center
  • preparation of the family members who would see their loved one very soon
  • shouts to the miner and his response, the reaction of all to hearing his voice
  • the last few feet filled with anticipation
  • cheers & applause from the crowd as “the Phoenix” emerged and the door to the capsule was opened
  • removal of the miner’s harness
  • prayers, hugs, kisses and tears, each moment as unique as the individual
  • expressions of gratitude, welcoming words from incredibly invested officials
  • swift exit from the scene to be triaged and received medical care

As I let the video stream in the background of my computer during the work day, I found myself drawn back every 45 minutes or so to watch the sweet moments of freedom and reunion, tearing up almost every time.

I realize that in the coming days many stories will emerge – positive and negative. I realize that these men’s lives are forever changed. I realize that there are other tragedies in the world, other people in need of rescue in so many ways. For now, though, I want to rest in the familiar expressions of gratitude and love. I want to acknowledge how resources, intelligence, determination, and unity worked in harmony with hope and faith. I want to say “esta bien” and “gracias Senor”

photo by Hugo Infante, Chilean government/ Associated Press

If you weren’t able to watch the rescues live, here is a taste as the final miner embraces the president and the crowd joins in a heartfelt singing of the Chilean national anthem.

(I’ve done a little digging and it seems that the t-shirts worn by many of the miners during their rescue – see photo above – were provided by Campus Crusade for Christ. This organization also sent “Jesus” (the audio version of the “The Jesus Film”) into the mine on 33 mp3 players via family members. The back of the t-shirt was printed with one of the miner’s favorite Bible verses.)

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