Letter From New York October 17, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

Proceeding south on the train into the city, the Hudson River is framed by the fall foliage, slowly moving to a moment of colorful glory. The weather has changed; now constantly cool. Sweaters have come out of the closet and jackets are required. The northern hemisphere is moving languidly into winter.

Surrounded by this inspiring beauty, it is easy to think of the world as tranquil and peaceful. This makes for good reflecting time.

Last Thursday, the world focused on the rescue of the miners in Chile, pulled out through a narrow hole drilled through nearly half a mile of solid rock in a capsule that was designed with the help of NASA. I found myself going out to the television set in the common area every while or so to watch the progression of the rescue. It was difficult not to feel a rush of emotion, joy at their return to the surface from their particular version of Hades.

Their survival is an impressive and inspiring tale; people, companies, organizations, governments worked together to make this a reality while the world watched on television. All’s well that ends well, said the bard but between the beginning and the ending there were harrowing times for these men, trapped for over two weeks before being discovered – a swath of red paint they sprayed on the piercing drill the first indication that life remained below. Attached to the end of the drill bit were bits of notes to loved ones.

They had lived below in darkness and in fear, surviving on starvation rations of what little they had when originally trapped, terrified that they might descend to cannibalism. Out of this miasma of terror and fear, they organized themselves and became an example to the world of comradeship and fraternity. After contact, they asked for a statue of the Virgin Mary and other religious articles to organize a shrine in one part of their cave home. One man became the captain, another the spiritual leader, another became the medic, nicknamed Dr. House after the television character, popular in Chile as well as the United States.

Their entire adventure became very real to a global swath of people. A camera was lowered into their cavern and we saw glimpses of their world, met men in real time living a real drama. We saw them sweat, we saw them live and witnessed their conversations with their loved ones. We were not just on the surface watching passively, we were in the cave with them, getting to know them before we knew whether they would live or not. Rescue was not guaranteed.

Their story became a local story almost everywhere. Video provides a path to intimacy and with intimacy comes investment, caring and engagement. That’s what I felt when I watched the rescue, engaged in the lives of men faraway but close because I could see and hear and thus become part of their world.

Their story has been inspiring, their rescue a feat of technology and ingenuity. The whole tale reflects man at his best. Yet to be dealt with are the causes of the tale, the dangers in the mine that resulted in the cave-in. We will watch these men, now national celebrities in their homeland and will wonder about them as they move forward, back into life. One will have to deal with his wife and mistress both meeting each other in Camp Hope, the tent town that grew to contain the waiting and watching relatives. Another has been offered a contract on a Chilean television network. Senor Sepulveda captured the heart of a nation as he gave video tours of their underground world.

Video is becoming the lingua franca of the modern world. If a picture is worth a thousand words then a story told in video is more than a novel. Twenty years ago the story of the Chilean trapped miners would probably not have been an international sensation. Putting cameras into their dire circumstances changed all that. We got to know them before knowing the outcome. They were the real reality show.

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