Returned to Life

Posted: Oct 20, 2010 12:01 AM
Returned to Life

E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle. We emerged to again see the stars.

--The last line of Dante's "Inferno"

The times were uncertain, as they always are. Wars raged, the after-effects of a financial panic still reverberated, and another political season was under way in the United States with all its biennial acrimony and rising pettiness as an election day approached. Politicians postured, people worried about the economy, tensions great and small mounted, and even reason made an appearance now and then. Only an occasional sportsmanlike gesture illuminated the daily dross called the news. Some people rose above the din, others added to it. It was, in short, the best and worst of times, like all others.

Then came the news that attracted the world's attention: Thirty-three men were entombed deep in a Chilean mine, cut off in the darkness. A rescue would require resources both technological and moral, a display of courage and initiative on the part of all involved, both above and under ground.

Impossible, the usual cynics had warned. Government and business, officials and private citizens work smoothly together despite all the odds? Yeah, the way they did when oil spilled into the Gulf day after day, week after week. Or in the disastrous aftermath of Katrina. The miners were lost, doomed to a slow death. Days passed, then weeks, as the wait lengthened.

The world held its breath. Could it be done? It was. Sooner and better than was thought possible. The president of Chile went to the mine site to welcome the rescued, ignoring advisors who urged him to stay away lest he be associated with a disaster. Yet everything went smoothly, despite all the fears. The last man up was the foreman of the crew, who understood that a leader makes sure his men are safe before he himself is rescued.

"We have done what the whole world was waiting for," Luis Urzua proclaimed, raising his arm in triumph. "The 70 days that we fought so hard were not in vain. We had strength, we had spirit, we wanted to fight, we wanted to fight for our families, and that was the greatest thing." Cheers, songs and Chilean flags filled the night air. Jubilation reigned. It was a night to celebrate. And, let us hope, a night to remember as normalcy returns and memory fades.

The ordinary detritus of the news was swept away as the world watched in astonishment and, thanksgiving. Man was reminded of the great things he is capable of in a crisis: individual spirit and mutual cooperation, self-discipline and solidarity, organization and daring, charity for others and the highest demands on one's self, faith and forbearance, pride and humility, patience and endurance, thought and action, all bound up together. And once again the world was reminded, as it isn't nearly often enough:

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!

It may be whole days before the usual backbiting, finger pointing and second-guessing begin. It would be another monumental achievement if it never did. What a wonder it would be if, not only in crisis but in the course of human events, man remembered what he is capable of, and, remembering, raised his expectations of himself. And proceeded to live up to them, to exceed them. As did these miners. And their families. And all those technicians and advisers from around the world.

An audience of millions followed this human -- and humane -- story. First with trepidation, then celebration. And always with fascination. And with that secret weapon in every crisis, personal prayer. For once mankind was united in faith, hope and charity.

Yes, let us celebrate. For to celebrate triumphs is to assure that there will be more of them. In celebrating this one, let us rehearse all the qualities, the virtues and strengths, that made it possible. And so perpetuate them. There is indeed something wondrous about the stars in the night sky. If we would but remember to look up.