Saturday, September 18, 2010

It Could Be Worse......

We all have bad days at work. Your boss yells at you for wearing moccasins to a board meeting, a co-worker passes gas in the elevator and everyone assumes it was you, or the only radio station in town is playing Nickelback again; but the truth of the matter is that someone always has it worse. And I am not referring to your acquaintances that treat “having it worse” as a competition. We all know people who treat human misery as a game of ridiculous escalation:

Person A – “I think I sprained my ankle this weekend”
Person B – “I suffer from chronic ankle pain, plus several of my internal organs are operating at only 40%                       capacity”
Person A – “I probably hurt it helping my brother move; he lost his job and has to move back in with our    parents”
Person B – “The only time I got to help my brother move was when I was a pallbearer at his funeral”
Person A – “Yeah…So…..I gotta get back to work. I am pretty behind”
Person B – “I haven’t been able to catch up either since my home was burned to the ground by while I was in the hospital for sadness."

Instead, I am referring to the events in life that allow the rest of us whiners to place our problems into the proper perspective. One such example for me is the plight of the Chilean miners, 33 men trapped half a mile below the surface of the earth and squeezed into a living area roughly the size of a Quizno’s. Stranded since the roof of the copper and gold mine collapsed on August 5th, these workers are subsisting on  whatever can be delivered through the three tiny “pigeon” holes that connect the miners to the outside world. 


Over the past month, the miners have been provided with some semblance of normalcy thought the use of electric lights, phone conversations, and even televised soccer matches. Onsite psychiatrists have thus far refused the men’s request for alcoholic beverages fearing a breakdown of the social order and just recently provided them with tobacco. Overall the group, whose youngest member is only nineteen, has demonstrated remarkable resiliency. Their enthusiasm even survived the news that it could be another two months before an escape hole could be drilled to provide them a three hour ride to safety. If that wasn’t daunting enough, the extraction tunnel will be so small that no one with a waistline of more than 35 inches could fit through it, so the men have been placed on a strict exercise routine.

On the one hand, I completely understand the reticence to provide a case of Miller Lite to a group of tightly-wound 33 men trapped in a mine shaft. Certainly no one wants to risk Frankie taking the power-shovel for a joy ride after downing a few cold ones and causing another cave-in. However, I wonder if withholding tobacco was a good idea. I have never smoked myself, but I have seen firsthand the palatable instability caused by a severe nicotine jones. Perhaps the officials are concerned for employee’s pulmonary health, which seems disingenuous to say to someone working 12-hour shifts in a Chilean copper mine.

Regardless, I must confess that their attitude in the face of extreme circumstances puts me to shame. Rather than allowing themselves to surrender to panic, they have established chores, routines, and designated areas for personal hygiene. I would like to go on record as saying that were I to have been in the mine when the roof collapsed and I found myself trapped, I would have run in concentric circles yelling “We are all going to die!” as I simultaneously soiled myself. This behavior would have continued until I was chemically sedated or my involuntary bowel-movements dehydrated me to the point of unconsciousness. After several days of this, I would crawl into the fetal position and sing “How Great Thou Art” until my voice gave out whereupon I would gently sob and whimper myself to sleep.

That is not to say that they do not have problems; one miner, Yonni Barrios, has been maintaining both a wife and a mistress for several years. In the past he has been able to keep these two worlds separate, but a few weeks ago they both showed up for a candlelight vigil at the site. After some idle chitchat and an innocent “So how do you know Yonni?” the situation rapidly deteriorated. Now the two women prowl the grounds of the mine waiting for the Mr. Barrios to resurface; each one claiming ownership of his affection. Yonni has yet to comment, but sources close to the situation believe he may have already volunteered to be rescued last.

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