Posted in Commentary, Lessons Learned

People first

New York Mining Disaster 1941—The Bee Gees

In the event of something happening to me
There is something I would like you all to see
It’s just a photograph of someone that I knew

Have you seen my wife, Mr. Jones?
Do you know what it’s like on the outside?
Don’t go talking too loud, you’ll cause a landslide,
Mr. Jones.

I keep straining my ears to hear a sound
Maybe someone is digging underground
Or have they given up and all gone home to bed?
Thinking those who once existed must be dead?

Have you seen my wife, Mr. Jones?
Do you know what it’s like on the outside?
Don’t go talking too loud, you’ll cause a landslide,
Mr. Jones

In the event of something happening to me
There is something I would like you all to see
It’s just a photograph of someone that I knew

Have you seen my wife, Mr. Jones?
Do you know what it’s like on the outside?
Don’t go talking too loud, you’ll cause a landslide,
Mr. Jo – o – o – o – ones

This song, by the Bee Gees, has been running through my head for a couple of weeks. The first time I heard it, I was haunted by its poignant narrative, and as I’ve followed the tragedy of the miners in Utah, it comes to mind again and again. Six trapped, presumed dead, and likely to never be found. Three more died trying to get to them, and six were injured.

The families are, understandably, upset, frustrated, and desperate. I’ve been talking lately with my friend the Red Baron about the relative horrors of fearing someone is dead, but not knowing and still hoping, and knowing for a fact. I’ve experienced both, with the same loss. When I called the police to check on Antiguo, I was calm on the outside, the hysteria inside contained enough to take care of the task at hand, though I would never have been making the phone call if I didn’t fear the worst. As I waited to hear back, I thought that at least I would know what happened, and that would be better than not knowing, which had me barely holding on to the edge by my fingernails.

I was wrong.

Any amount of hope, however half-heartedly held, is better than none at all. Because the reality of losing a loved one is so much worse than you could ever imagine it could be. It doesn’t matter if it was unexpected or a long time coming. I really think there are things that can make a death, and its aftermath, worse, but I don’t think anything can make it better. Greater and lesser degrees of horrible are not the same thing as better.

Whenever I read stories like this now, my thoughts instantly go to the families and friends left behind, as I know what they’re in for, and it’s the roughest of rides. They are whom I thought about when I read about the bridge collapsing in Minneapolis; I was fortunate in that my many family members who live there were nowhere near the bridge. But I ached for those who were not so lucky.

I find that I am angry on behalf of those miners and their families, as I’m sure others are. It seems to me that it is beyond unconscionable to put miners in a place where they cannot be retrieved. Retreat mining is extremely dangerous, (not that regular mining is any picnic). I think if you cannot get your people out of a mine in an emergency, then they shouldn’t be that deep into the earth to begin with. If that means the coal stays in the ground, so be it. I understand that, as it stands now, they cannot get to them because the earth is too unstable, the mine too deep. But it never should have happened. And it should never happen again. The fact that the mine owner is already talking about reopening other parts of the operation should be met with protest and scrutiny, and probably legislation.

These families in Utah want the mine owner to keep looking for the miners, wanting to remove them from one hole in the earth to place them into one of their choosing. I understand that desire. It is hard enough to fathom death, but to accept it without proof beyond ongoing absence adds its own further difficulty where there is no lack of it. “Closure” is one of those words thrown around, by the mine owner himself, in fact, but there is no such thing in something like this. I don’t think it will make them feel better; but they cannot know that yet, and I could be wrong. I agree with the decision to not send another team in; risking more lives to retrieve bodies seems ill-advised. Rescue after more than 2 weeks seems improbable, though I cannot blame the families for trying to hold on to hope. It is all they have. And yet I doubt that, deep down, they would wish on another family what has happened to theirs, and that is the risk that must be taken to find the miners’ bodies.

What a sad, sad situation. I’m not unsympathetic to the families; quite the contrary. But I also know that all the things you try to hold on to, all the rituals you practice when faced with a loss like this, are of only minimal comfort. That said, you’re grateful for even that. So what do we do? What can we say to these people whose pain we may understand, but cannot comfort? Truly, that is the central question of grief, and answers are not plentiful. Which is why we always just say, “I’m sorry.” It’s all you can say.

But “sorry” is not enough; we need to do better. Knowingly engaging in unsafe business practices for profit is unacceptable. It is not Murray who is in danger; it is the men young and old who take the risk. I would rather turn off the lights and ration electricity than to have men dying to get the coal for my power plant. I would rather subsidize education to retrain these miners to work in solar power than subsidize the mine owner’s tax breaks. We live in a time, and in a country, with the best technology and the most resources in the world. There is no reason men have to die to pull rocks out of the ground. None but greed and untrammeled self-interest.

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Author:

I've been doing some form of creative writing since 9th grade, and have been a blogger since 2003. Like most bloggers, I've quit blogging multiple times. But the words always come back, asking to be written down, and they pester me if I don't. So here we are. Thanks for reading.