Thoughts on the Chilean Miners

Other than the man whose mistress showed up to greet him but not his wife (ouch!), there seems to be no component of the story of the rescued Chilean miners that is not magical, if not miraculous. It is a beautiful example of the triumph of the human spirit, and of the refusal to fail, to paraphrase the oft quoted phrase of the NASA flight director for Apollo 13.

“Failure is not an option,” Gene Kraft said, and he and his fellow scientists essentially willed those astronauts back to earth in a seriously compromised space capsule. The president of Chile said what for all intents and purposes was the same thing. He refused to give up on those miners, went to extraordinary lengths and expense to save them, and did. Bravo to him, I say, and congratulations to the miners. It was impossible not to be moved by this story, and inspired.

As a person of faith, I have been more than a little taken by some of the things the miners have had to say since their rescue. Aside from the obvious and richly deserved gratitude that they have shown for their rescuers, they have also spoken of being granted another life- a new beginning, a chance to start over.

I smiled when I heard that. How often in life have we wished for a “do-over,” like we used to have in the schoolyard when someone interfered with our swing, or a ball got stuck in a fence. Life rarely presents us the opportunity for do-overs. We live with the consequences of our decisions, for better and for worse, and rarely is there a chance to re-live a situation of choice that we know we handled poorly.

Spiritually speaking, the closest we come to the do-over is what we’ve just experienced with the High Holidays. In a sense, tshuvah – authentic and heart-felt penitence- offers us a chance to begin anew in a new year with a clean slate. When properly experienced, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur should leave us feeling cleansed, and forgiven.

But the experience of the Chilean miners is extremely rare, if not unique. Those men could have been left for dead, and it would have been understandable if the decision had been made to do so. They really have been granted a second chance at this life…

Whether or not they will follow through on that spiritual insight remains to be seen, and I’m sure that their families are much more concerned with their mental and physical health right now than with their spiritual growth.

But it would be a fascinating exercise to track their lives over the next few years, and see how they have chosen to live life “after the rescue.” Most of us, when redeemed from a dangerous situation or illness, feel an enhanced sensitivity to blessing, but it rarely lasts- just human nature. I hope these miners don’t lose their sense of wonder at being alive. Their lives, in the truest sense, are really a gift.

Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is spiritual leader of The Forest Hills Jewish Center, a Conservative congregation

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.