Extraordinary Measures in the Mine, But Now, the Ordinary

10/13/2010 08:36 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Claudia Ricci EMERITUS FACULTY, English and Journalism, University at Albany-SUNY

We are glued to the screen while the Chilean miners, each one a hero, emerge to explosive applause and wildly heart-wrenching reunions with loved ones.

The capsule looks like a spacecraft.

The Chilean landscape looks like the moon.

And so the drama that unfolds today -- a blessing of unimaginable proportion -- is one of those amazing moments when astonishing engineering efforts make us all proud.

But watching the meticulous treatment of the miners as they stepped out of the narrow pillbox that carried them to the earth's surface from a temporary grave 2,000 feet down, I couldn't help but wonder,

What if?

What if even a fraction of the time, care and effort that has been invested in the Chilean mine rescue had been invested in mine safety before the accident? What if even a fraction of the brilliant engineering efforts had been devoted to repairing the mine BEFORE those poor men were lowered to their jobs on August 5th?

It's mind-boggling what the rescuers have done. It's a credit to human intelligence and engineering that this rescue has been possible. But our attention spans are short. And our concern for everyday human woes is so limited. Would we have watched a TV interview with Chilean miner Florencio Avalos -- the first of the miners to emerge -- on Aug. 4 if he had complained about the rickety mine built in 1889? Would we have sympathized or cared if this man from a remote spot in Chile had said he was only going to work there because he was so desperate for the money?

Probably not.

We've got a great love of this drama. And it is a triumph for sure.

But as we witness the miracle that made this day, and this extraordinary rescue possible, do we think about all those other miners who are today going to work in mines where safety is an issue?