Wednesday, 13 October 2010

10 songs for the 33

Few things have captured the world's attention like the fate of the 33 miners trapped in the San José copper mine in Chile (los 33). In terms of offers of prayers and help from the international community there are echoes of Apollo 13, but that was in the days before instant coverage (instant gratification?) through internet-based news services. I'd like to offer 10 songs to the miners, their loved ones, and everybody who sees in this situation a reflection of the stories of Jonah, Noah and the mane tales of bravery with which we reassure ourselves that the world is a friendlier place than it sometimes seems.

Driving the Last Spike

It's inevitable that any discussion about the 33 would start with a chthonic theme. Driving the Last Spikle by Genesis is about blasting tunnels in England as opposed to mining copper in Chile, but the themes of dignity, betrayal and catastrophe are common to both. (It's a long song: when the video below ends, click this link for the second half!)

The Ferryman?

The Greeks believed that the souls of the dead were ferried to their eternal state of not-quite-being by Charon, who had to be paid by a coin placed in the mouth of the departed. Although I'm sure the 33 were all Christians, if not Roman Catholics, it would be unreasonable to expect that they did not think about the journey across the Styx (or any metaphor of transition you care to choose), especially when it was not apparent that anybody could reach them.

Ashes to ashes...

What did the 33 reflect on in those times that were dark in every sense? There are those who say that being brought up against one's own mortality changes one's view. Is there another dimension beyond dust?

In the language of the dead

I once had a boss who said that reflecting on one's mortality was most likel;y to strengthen one's character. But just as cum mortuis in lingua mortua (with the dead in the language of the dead) comes before the most exultant parts of Mussorgski's Pictures at an Exhibition, I suppose that the old saw that "it's darkest before the dawn" is true.


But something happened. Chile was determined not to let its sons die, and the world responded, exemplified by NASA, which sent a team with experience of supporting astronauts who had to spend long periods isolated. Three teams set to excavating three excavation tunnels.

Juan Luis Guerra

One of the acts the 33 listened to in order to keep their spirits up was Dominican artist Juan Luis Guerra - here he is with Que me des tu cariño, which is bhest translated as Give me your tenderness.

Too much tenderness

There are indications that some of the miners face a situation that, unfortunately, is so common that even the Monkees sang about it...

Coming up

But the main thing, the miraculous thing, is that the 33 are ascending from what might have been their grave; all other travails are secondary to this.

Lead Kindly Light

And also, the mens' faith has sustained them and their families. I hope this faith sustains through the trials and temptations to follow. (Most of this hymn was composed by John Henry Newman, the Anglican priest and Roman Catholic cardinal who was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on his recent visit to Great Britain.)

The most important thing

is that 33 men who might easily have died have been given another life. As I write, the last miner has been brought into the light. Thank God.

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