Spoiler alert for the book Deep Down Dark. While most of what I’m about to talk about has actually been covered in the media at various times, if you didn’t see it or have forgotten and want to read the book with no spoilers, this post is going to have a few.
When I was in the hospital, I read Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle That Set Them Free. At the time, I needed a book engrossing enough to transport me out of my hospital room and most of all, have a happy ending. I found myself transfixed by Hector Tobar’s account of the miners’ 69 days underground and their dramatic rescue.
It’s really an incredible story. The thing that fascinates me most now, however, is not how the miners endured the horrifying conditions, the near starvation, or the triumphant moments as each man emerged from the rescue capsule. It’s the true ending, what happened once the media spotlight faded.
After the breathless media coverage, the fame, the money given to each of them, most of them went back to living essentially the way they were before the mine collapse. Several have even gone back to work as miners.
The humanities major in me isn’t very satisfied with this ending. In the US, there’s a strong cultural ideal surrounding redemption narratives, life-changing experiences, and being an entirely different – and better, improved – person after struggle or hardship, especially when the ending is as miraculous as with this particular story. I’m used to movies, memoirs, or novels that end this way. Reading how the men still had the problems they entered the mine that day with, how they picked up where they left off, doesn’t fit that narrative.
It’s been a sort of comfort to realize that, having survived (on a much smaller scale) a difficult and life-changing experience and becoming one of those miracle stories, I still recognize myself. Not everything has changed despite a new home, new city, new job, new daughter. I’m still introverted, still more quick-tempered than I’d like to be, still pig-headed, still with many of the same issues and strengths I took with me to the hospital that January night. It doesn’t fit with what I’d consider the somehow less complicated, more media-friendly life-totally-transformed ending, but perhaps that’s one of the unsung miracles of human resilience: how often life goes on flowing stubbornly around all the rocks and falls in its path.
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