Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Book Review: Deep Down Dark



With just a few hours to go before their long-awaited deliverance, a few of the miners look back in wonder on their nine-week imprisonment in the bowels of the collapsed mine, the San Jose, in the mountains of Chile. Together, they'd feared certain death, spent weeks preparing to die, then watched what scant food they had slowly disappear. 

Soon, amazingly, it would actually be over. 

One of them looks around at the would-be tomb and feels a generous kind of wonder, a near reverence that transforms the dark pit of death into sacred ground. He actually writes a letter to leave behind, and signs it:  "'Mario Sepulveda lived here from August 5 to October 13," then, with the note, adds some pictures he's recently given through the portal created when a giant drill finally bore its way down to them and opened up what seemed miraculous communication. Mario Sepulveda is awed by what he's been through. He's on his knees in reverence.

Raul Bustos will have none of that. Bustos gathers rocks and flings them, one after another, into the abyss as if striking a beast now clumsily sauntering away into the darkness. He scribbles obscenities on the walls in permanent markers, blaming the mine owners for the misery he's gone through. "I wanted it all to go away," Bustos told Hector Tobar, who chronicled the entire story in Deep, Down Dark. With every bit of his being, Bustos wants the mine to disappear from his consciousness and the world's: "I didn't want anyone else to see it, to come and say later, 'See, look, this is where Raul Bustos slept.' It was all very private, and it was mine."

"The earth is giving birth to its 33 children after having them inside her for two months and eight days." Victor Segovia, at the very same moment, looks back at what he and the others had gone through and sees something else altogether. Segovia had been the main chronicler of the miners' experiences, his memories and insights the only day-to-day written record of what exactly happened to 33 men trapped in the heat and night of a collapsed mine all of them believed would be a graveyard. 

Finally, Victor draws a heart inside his diary and writes "I LOVE SAN JOSE," because, Hector Tobar says, "the mine is like him: flawed and neglected but worthy of respect and love."

How three men react to the very same awful experience--just over two months of near starvation in the dark neighborhood of death--is a marvel because we are, all of us, somehow perfectly unique. There are no clones. One of the men makes the tomb a cathedral, another a veritable hell, yet another casts the darkness as a lover. All three men are thoughtful; all three men are deadly serious. All three men have undergone an experience unlike anything anyone else in the entire world has, and now all three are about to be delivered into life up on the surface of the earth, into light, and love. 

But when they look back, what they see couldn't be more different.

"What a piece of work is man," says Hamlet. He doesn't mean it as a question, but a utterance of sheer awe at the seeming incongruities we embody as human beings. 

In Psalm 8, the poet says humans look so immensely feeble against a backdrop of the glorifying heavens: "What are we that you care about us?" the psalmist says, "that you have crowned us with glory and honor?" But he has.

Amazing. Just amazing.

What those many days beneath the earth did is little more than compress life in a way that every one of those 33 men understood, even though as it ended they regarded what had happened to them with night-and-day differences.  They'd gone a long ways down the road toward death. And then returned.

As amazing at it sounds, their story, as told by Hector Tobar in Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle that Set Them Free, as amazing and truly unique as it was, is our story too. 

No one reading these words spent all that time buried in the earth, fighting for life, looking for meaning. Yet, strange as it sounds, all of us do. What makes Hector Tobar's book so moving and memorable is that somehow we are there in the mine with them, all of us.


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