The world cannot tear its eyes from the hole in the desert.
It is the portal between light and darkness, the final crossing point for the 33 men who have lived in the Chilean ground for 69 days. These are the men who were presumed dead when the mine caved in on Aug. 5. The very same men who say they have lived with God and the Devil, and have now returned to the surface. It’s a modern day resurrection, broadcast for the world to see.
“It’s never been done before,” Laura Fisher said, between fries on her lunch break in Toronto. “Instead of 33 dead bodies they’re bringing them up alive. It’s one of those things you tell your kids about.”
Fisher didn’t talk mining two months ago. Now she can discuss the logistics of a complicated rescue as she watches a miner she’s never met hug his family, thousands of kilometres away from her table.
Chris Dornan, the director of Carleton’s Arthur Kroeger College of Public Affairs, said the rescue has captivated the world because people can relate to “fear of being entombed.”
“It’s almost impossible not to imagine yourself in the place of the miners,” he said.
But amid the morbid curiosity is the irresistible appeal of a happy ending. Rarely is a story this colossal — one that grips the attention of the world — of the happy sort.
Mass television audiences most often bear witness to unprecedented horror. Think the Kennedy assassination or 9/11, or the 1958 Springhill mining disaster in Nova Scotia.
In Chile’s Atacama dessert, there are no coffins. There are cheers and laughter as the resilient miners ride a small capsule called the Phoenix through 610 metres of rock. It’s the kind of ending that is part moon landing, part Apollo 13.
“What I think is so refreshing about this, there’s no argument about it. There’s no good or bad,” said Robert Thompson, the director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University in New York. “It’s not like the right has one opinion and the left has another.”
Thompson said it’s too early to know how history will remember this event, but it’s certainly spectacular television. The wall-to-wall coverage the world saw with the Balloon Boy farce is now being used for something much more significant and hopeful.
In Toronto, Chileans gathered in Kensington’s Jumbo Empanadas and watched as the cable slowly winded down the mine shaft.
At GoodLife Fitness on Queen St., running shoes pounded out a tense rhythm as the lunch hour athletes waited for miner No. 18 to emerge.
Over at St. Jean de Brébeuf high school in Woodbridge, students gathered around televisions.
“I’m really curious that this actually is the first time they’ve been able to save the people that far down in the ground, and it’s really cool but kind of scary what they have to endure going up,” said 14-year-old Christopher Di Martino.
In Di Martino’s religion class, they talked about miracles. On the other side of the world, Pope Benedict XVI offered his prayers.
At St. Josephine Bakhita Catholic Elementary School in Brampton, Grade 4 students learned about empathy and pulley-and-gear systems.
“We then had the students write reflections — how these people would have felt, being away from their families for over two months,” said teacher David Amodeo.
While the capsule was below the ground the schoolchildren watched Chilean President Sebastian Pinera take phone calls from world leaders.
“They come out so strong, with so much faith, we will never forget this night,” Pinera said to British Prime Minister David Cameron, calling him David, and only David, as the world watched the call live.
Suddenly, the cable reversed and a middle-aged woman in a black sweater appeared on the live stream feed. She wiped tears from beneath her crooked sunglasses. Around her, men with hard hats loomed with microphones. Voices became louder and she began to clap. Then she stopped, craning her head to look at the hole. The silence was deafening as she pressed her hands together. The capsule emerged, inch by inch, and her son Daniel Herrera became the 16th miner to see sunlight. His mother joined in the cheer: “Chi Chi Chi! Le Le Le!”
“You’d have to be dead in the soul not to find these moving,” Dornan said.
Dornan said the story of the miners is a gripping narrative made for the silver screen. The families of the miners lived in a makeshift town called Camp Hope. A global effort went into the rescue. The fact that we could see and communicate with them before the rescue makes it all the more interesting. The fact that they wanted shoe polish before their television debut is human.
“There will be movies made about this, these miners will write books. The story of their travail and rescue will perpetuate,” Dornan said.