Miners, Minerals and Mines

“The 33.” Thus became known the group of men who worked at the San José mine, north of Chile, where they were trapped underground for 70 days. Their rescue was successful and became a media spectacle; politicians took profit, and documentaries, movies and books are on the way.

One sentence, among many, grabbed my attention. It came from a miner called Mario Sepulveda, who exclaimed as soon as he was rescued, “I have been with God and with the devil. The two fought for me and God won.” As I heard this, my mind gravitated to that victory below the earth. Also taken and grateful to God for this “miracle,” I joined the party. To appreciate the miner’s perseverance, and the efforts, technological resources, help and hope of many, makes one consider this tension-filled story.

We live in the daylight and, supposedly, light for our minds and hearts, but down below another reality was known. Although surrounded by darkness, I think this long period of isolation shed light for those miners: they could reflect on their values, they had time to fondle precious memories, consider attitudes, know more of human nature and instincts. There were strenuous limitations but time abounded, and thus they could, one hopes, ponder about their desperate screams, about the tumult and agony over not being ever rescued, and maybe about the long silences by which one could hear the rumours of another war. I imagined that, even paradoxically, amidst darkness they could observe life better; amidst scarcity, reflections abounded; amidst pain, they discovered and treasured new tastes; amidst a seemingly lost time, they found long-gone memories, and as they died for some things, others were born. They needed a deep silence, forced by extreme circumstances, to be able to hear better.

The question now is, for them and for us: what happens when they come back to the surface? Will superficiality prevail? Will they forget those treasures found below, more enriching than the gold of the mine? Thank God they were rescued, but will they be lost again? Will they become like one more of us, distracted, inattentive, unaware of the riches of life which only a period in the darkness may reveal?

Tais Machado is writer and lectured based in São Paulo, Brazil.

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