Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Chilean Miners: Real Life Action Heroes

There is a reason the film Buried starring Ryan Reynolds was made, and even a bigger reason it was released for the Halloween movie season. Being buried alive has to be on the top of many people's very worst fears list I am sure many film execs had high hope that those very fears was what would drive folks to the cinema during a time when many are in the mood for a few scares. The film so far has been a flop in the box office. I wonder if part of the reason is due to the fact that for the last 9 weeks the world has been subject to a real life version of Buried. It has been since August 5, 2010 that 33 Chilean miners have been trapped close to 700 metres underground. This incident has been covered on almost every television channel and throughout the internet, so when you watch that type of real life drama then who would be interested in a silly little horror movie? This was a story that no one knew the ending to (until now), but we all deep down hoped for the Hollywood version (because in real life, Hollywood endings are what we actually want). The events fascinated us partly because it involved something we would all be terrified of (being buried alive and trapped in a confined space), but also showed us men we could root for. They seemed like hard working men that had loving families, and also, these were men who had an unshakably strong spirit despite the circumstances. These were circumstances that almost nobody would ever imagine or expect somebody to remain positive and confident.

Since I was a little kid, one of my greatest fears has been to be buried alive. I remember worrying that one day I might be sleeping or unconscious, but somebody would mistaken me for being dead; I would then wake up inside a tight coffin that is buried six feet under the ground. In 1989, I remember all the news reports about the massive earthquakes that devastated California, and caused the World Series to be preempted. The footage of the toppled buildings and mass destruction is still firmly implanted in my mind to this day. For a short while after, I remember constantly being worried that maybe Brantford would get its first massive earthquake (we were due in my mind) and then I would find myself buried under the rubble of my house (or church -- I seemed to always think that the earthquake would definitely have to happen during church). It was never the earthquake that I was really scared about, but rather the idea of being trapped in a building and not being able to move for hours or days. I was a fidgety kid that liked his motion, and the idea of being in a confined space absolutely petrified me. So, throughout my childhood I had this irrational fear of being buried alive (or at least, being trapped in a confined space for an extended period of time).

I am not sure if the fear was birthed from one evening with a certain babysitter, but I am sure that night didn't help. I was probably not the easiest kid to babysit, I mean, I was a good kid, but I had a really active imagination. I was always trying to come up with adventures and journeys that I could go on, which after a while I am sure got very exhausting. This babysitter decided she had gone on enough treasure hunts or seen me pretend to be a lion for long enough, and decided it was time for a break. She had convinced me to play a game of hide and go seek -- which lacked the usual fantasy my games required but I was up for a few minutes of it -- and allowed me the privilege of being the first to hide. We had this closet/mini pantry in the kitchen, that I usually liked to pretend was either a portal to another world or was the home of the various monsters I believe lived in our house (it depended on what type of mood I was in that day). I instantly believed this was the best place to hide, because even if she did look there first, I would just use the portal to zap somewhere new (or I'd slip behind the box of ET cereal maybe?). Apparently, the babysitter had a pretty good idea that I would use that spot as a hiding place; it probably helped that this house wasn't overly big. While I was excitedly waiting to be found in the pantry/closet, my babysitter was just was excited about the prospect for some peace away from the energetic boy. You see, while I was imagining I was being zapped off to Puff's magic island, my babysitter was actually sliding heavy objects up against the door. Her strategy for the next several hours was to leave me in the closet, while she didn't have to do anymore imagining or pretending for the rest of the night. Needless to say, that would be the last night she was ever my babysitter, as my parents were less than impressed with this approach to sitting. The fact remained the damaged had been done to this overly imaginative boy, who liked to be able to move around. I don't know how long I actually was stuck in there. I remember it felt like hours and hours at the time. I remember smashing my little 6 year old boy frame against the door and panicking when it wouldn't budge. I remember hating that I couldn't see in the dark, and starting to imagine that I wasn't alone in that tight space. I remember freaking out that I couldn't stretch out my whole body, and becoming more fidgety by the second. All I could think about was getting out of that closet and being able to see light again and being able to move about again. I remember yelling and begging for her to let me out of that closet, but she wouldn't even acknowledge me. Of course, I did get out, and despite it being absolutely frightening at the time, there wasn't any real major damage done. It did definitely confirm my hatred for being in small spaces, and helped me decide to put being buried alive on the top of the list of thing I hope to never encounter.

As scary as that incident was or felt like, it was no where near what has been endured by the Chilean miners stuck in the San José de Copiapó mine. One of my greatest fears and nightmares had become the 2 and half month reality for them. I remember the panic that I experience just being stuck in a closet, that deep down I knew I'd eventually get out of. The miners never have had the luxury of knowing they would ever get out or ever see sunshine again. They never had the luxury of knowing their mom and dad would be coming home and forcing the closet door open. They were trapped, and rescue was not a foregone conclusion. I have no idea how I would react in a similar situation. In disaster films, you always see the protagonist rise to the occasion, and remain brave and courageous,; the hero keeps a clear head and knows exactly what to do despite it being the most dire and panic inducing of situations. I, on the other hand, am likely to be the guy who is wiped out in the first five minute because I sank my teeth into a live wire for a misguided effort to gain nutrition (the more amazing thing is how I found a live wire in a mine shaft). The reality is, the scripted action hero is fictional for a reason, and most are probably very unlikely to be able to remain strong and brave during such a terrifying circumstance.

The men trapped in that mine where the real life version of those heroes from disaster flicks. They were trapped in a situation that is a nightmare for anyone, and a scenario we wouldn't fault anybody for panicking. We know disaster flicks are fiction, and usually the real life ending is much more fatal and somber. These men actually did the seemingly impossible and fought against unbearable odds. For the last several weeks, we witnessed a real life blockbuster movie, and one that actually contains a Hollywood ending, proving sometimes happiness can exist in real life.

Luis Urzia, the shift supervisor, was one who was forced into the role of hero and met that challenge head on. When the collapse took place, it appears he was the man that immediately gathered the others and got them secured into a safer place in the mine. He quickly put together the small resources and provisions they had, in order to help ensure their chances for a long term survival. It was quick thinking like this that made them survive longer in a collapsed mine than anyone else in history (this decade alone, there has been thousands of lives claimed from collapsed mines). The men wanted to live, and they fought hard to overcome what would seem like insurmountable odds. They had themselves a leader who used the knowledge and resources to give them the best chance possible.

These men are not only heroes for being able to survive for so long, but also for being able to remain so brave, courageous and positive. There has been video footage of these men smiling, and talking in a nature that is uplifting and optimistic. These men have been the ones that told their families and loved ones to keep believing. It has been an amazing story of hope and faith. I think the situation is best encapsulated in a quote from one of the rescued miners Mario Sepulveda Espina.

"I think I had extraordinary luck. ... I was with God and with the devil -- and God took me."

To me, this displays the internal battle that was going on with some of the men down there. I am sure there were moments that they were ready to give up and lose their faith that one day they'd be rescued. I am sure thoughts of hopelessness, despair, and maybe even suicide had set in. It isn't a paradise being stuck below the earth in the darkness with the growing smell of body odour and waste along with the continual hunger and thirst constantly plaguing you. More importantly, these men were away from their lifelines -- family and friends. They had to dig deep inside themselves, and the only support they had was the occasional video linked chats with family. It was not an easy place to be optimistic and full of hope. These men fought and clawed their way to that light at the end of the tunnel, which was the place inside them where they believed they would be free some day. They realized the most important thing was to keep that faith, and to keep their trust that 'god' would keep them safe. It is admirable. It makes them true heroes.

I am sure at some point there will be a film about this incident (actually, I wouldn't be surprised if the script is being worked on this second). The movie will never truly be able to capture the emotion that would have been felt by those men and their families. This is an event that not only united the country of Chile, but also has enthralled the entire globe. There must be much credit given to the rescue workers and a President that gave up all his duties in order to be present for the relief effort. I will not shortchange their amazing contributions. It is important to not forget that in the end, it is the trapped miners who truly showed immeasurable toughness and bravery. The Chilean miners were real life action heroes.

3 comments:

  1. Anonymous10:21 am

    Jude Martin via Facebook:

    awesome article Chris...thanks for sharing this!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, I appreciate it. Just for the record, you were not the closet locking babysitter I accuse of my life lasting trauma.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous12:17 am

    Jude Martin via Facebook:

    lol...well thanks for clarifying that for any of your other readers who may have wondered!!!

    ReplyDelete