Sunday, July 8, 2018

Why do buried lives become important?

      Am I the only one seeing the ghost of Floyd Collins?
     He flickered into mind after those boys were trapped in a cave in Thailand, a dozen soccer players and their coach. 
    When the search was going on, as each day passed, hope dwindled. Then they were found but, in a cruel twist, getting them out was neither immediate nor perhaps even possible. It involved a six hour dive, in near total darkness, for children who could not swim. Found but not safe.
     Collins was the Kentucky cave explorer, on Jan. 30, 1925, he became trapped 55 feet underground, while trying to find a new entrance to the Crystal Cave. He too could be seen but not rescued.
     The next two weeks became an early American media circus, as primitive radio stations set up, barkers sold food and souvenirs. A reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal, William Burke Miller, began wriggling into the cave to interview Collins, and sent out breathless dispatches: 
     CAVE CITY, Kentucky, Feb. 2—Floyd Collins is suffering torture almost beyond description, but he is still hopeful he will be taken out alive, he told me at 6:20 o`clock last night on my last visit to him.
     Until I went inside myself I could not understand exactly what the situation was. I wondered why someone couldn't do something quick, but I found out why.      "I was lowered by my heels into the entrance of Sand Cave. The passageway is about five feet in diameter. After reaching the end of an 80-foot drop I reached fairly level ground for a moment. From here on in I had to squirm like a snake. Water covers almost every inch of the ground, and after the first few feet I was wet through and through. Every moment it got colder. It seemed that I would crawl forever, but after going about 90 feet I reached a very small compartment, slightly larger than the remainder of the channel.
     This afforded a breathing spell before I started again on toward the prisoner. The dirty water splashed in my face and numbed my body, but I couldn't stop. Finally I slid down an eight-foot drop and, a moment later, saw Collins and called to him. He mumbled an answer.
     My flashlight revealed a face on which is written suffering of many long hours, because Collins has been in agony every conscious moment since he was trapped at 10 o`clock Friday morning.
     I saw the purple of his lips, the pallor on his face, and realized that something must be done before long if this man is to live.
     Miller won the Pulitzer Prize. Collins died of exposure after two weeks, days before a shaft sunk trying to reach it would have broken through. The fates of those boys are still in the balance.
      Why do such stories resonate? Collins would be followed by a number of others—Baby Jessica McClure, the 18-month old girl who fell into a well in Midland Texas in 1987 comes to mind. When children are involved, world attention is even more transfixed.
     Maybe it's the optimist in me, but these stories touch on something precious. They remind us of the value of every life. Experts from half a dozen countries, including the United States, which sent Navy divers, rushed to Thailand. It was breathless, front page news. The same children who would be turned away from our borders with a sneer of mocking derision were suddenly of enormous value—suddenly, I would suggest, be given the enormous value they deserve. 
      I hope that the boys are rescued, all safe, and reunited with the parents. And moreover, I hope that the world, relieved, sees the contours of a lesson in this. Why do people only become important when buried alive? Why are the lives of others precious only when they are put in peril? Something to think about. 


  1. "The same children who would be turned away from our borders with a sneer of mocking derision were suddenly of enormous value"

    O course. I hadn't thought of this. You are absolutely correct.

  2. I spelunked wild caves in my youth until after a 2 hour crawl we got lost in the maze leading to the main passage of the cave we were exploring. took 10 hrs to find our way back out. dumb stoned kids.

    I read the book about Floyd . didn't cave for 20 years till my kids wanted to go. been much more sensible about it with them. do mostly small commercial caves with well marked trails inside.

    the rescuers bringing out those boys are fine examples of humanity. scuba diving? nope! diving in caves? nope! more sack than I've got. I hope they get everybody out and no one else dies

  3. At the risk of sounding cynical, I think the lives of others are sometimes less important to the rescuer than is the rescuer's need to rescue. It's the damsel-in-distress / knight-in-shining-armor fantasy come to life. It's Dudley Do-Right exclaiming "I'll save you, Nell!" It's Tom & Becky lost in the cave while Huck leads the search. Attractive stories because they appeal to our compassion, but also our vicarious super-hero needs.

  4. Between Floyd Collins and Baby Jessica, there was also Kathy Fiscus, who was born just days after the end of WWII. In April, 1949, three-year-old Kathy fell into a well in San Marino, California. Attempts to rescue her were covered live on network radio. The rescue attempt was also the first event of its kind ever broadcast on live television, via a local news outlet, KTLA.

    The event became a media frenzy for two days and nights. Few folks had TVs yet, so they crowded sidewalks all over Los Angeles, watching sets in store windows all night long. People all over America, both at home and in bars and restaurants, sat mesmerized in front of radios. There was worldwide grief and sorrow after the somber announcement of Kathy's death was broadcast live.

    Woody Allen lived through this tragedy as a young teen, and never forgot it. He re-created the well rescue and the news of Kathy's death, and their effects on the country, for his 1987 film, "Radio Days." Within months of the movie's release, the Baby Jessica story occurred, though with a happier outcome. Sometimes, life does imitate art.

  5. "The same children..." Indeed. This ate at my gut, wondering how "trapped in a cave" garnered so much sympathy, but "trapped in a cage" not so much. So grateful the boys were all rescued. So heartbroken over the brave man who died in the rescue. So livid that the world has not stepped in to stop the destruction of THOUSANDS of children's lives at the hands of a mobster. #TrumpCrimeFamily #TrumpConcentrationCamps


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