Deep Down Dark

Originally published January 2015

Bitter cold making you a little stir crazy? Count your blessings.

Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free, by Héctor Tobar, is a breathtaking account of the two months in 2010 during which a group of miners in a desolate region of Chile became an international symbol of hope and perseverance. It’s also wildly effective as a perspective reset for the new year.

It was a good friend of mine that turned me on to this book, a full narrative of the mine cave-in that trapped 33 men thousands of feet underground. Unless you were living under a rock at the time, you certainly heard of the drama unfolding—first to determine if there were any survivors and then to figure out how to reach them for a rescue attempt.

Much of what the public heard during the crisis came from up top—after all, the media only had access to those outside the mine, not in it. However, Tobar’s book gives the readers access to the mindset of those men and how it was they survived 69 days underground. While not the polar opposite of what was reported at the time, much of the fear and depression and medical crises the men faced was purposely kept to themselves, for love of family, and because of a pact to share their story as one and not 33.

At times the book is uplifting and at others, painfully honest. Trauma changes people in ways that can’t fully be explained. Some rise to the occasion, others retreat into themselves. To just survive the first few days, these men had to come together in rationing food and water. Their situation was one that demanded strength and unity, and for those first few days, the simple act of group prayer was like a glue that held them together. To survive the last month, the same men had to minister health care to one another, maintain civility when moods were worn perilously thin, put aside petty grievances and re-commit to the ideal their story was singular and not for individual sale—monumentally difficult when family members on the outside continued to promise riches and press for details.

And of course, there’s the aftermath—the joy at the rescue of these hardscrabble workers, happiness for their good fortune, and then the slow descent into declining popularity and even jealousy at the generosity shown to them—trips, gifts, monetary rewards—did they really deserve all those riches? And because each handled these wares differently, fissures in their unified front soon formed. Those grievances once held down below ground now bubbled to the surface.

If there’s ever been an unintentional sociology experiment, taking men from different backgrounds, different faiths, different family circumstances and throwing them into a life-or-death situation to see what happens, this is it. And it’s an opportunity to ponder (although let’s be honest, how much can we really know about how we’d act unless it really happened) our possibilities when facing a crisis. It’s safe to assume you’re not going to get trapped in an underground mine today. And no one really likes to think about the various tragic “What ifs” you can encounter every day (except me … “What if this bridge collapses? What if my elevator stops between floors? What if Starbucks IS OUT OF SKIM MILK??? ANARCHY!!!”)

Are you the the type that will step up or check out? Deep Down Dark is an amazing read that may help jump start that conversation with yourself or your family.

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