This is because I've been thinking about 5 August 2010 a lot this week. I've been trying to remember what I was doing that day and what I have seen, heard, done, enjoyed, witnessed and celebrated in the weeks since. So I've looked back to the e-mails I sent around that day, as they are the nearest I have to a journal, or were until I started this blog. I have this from 6 August, to The Daughter, all names changed to protect the guilty and preserve the anonymity of the innocent
What a hell of a day it was yesterday. [Your boyfriend's father's] major op [for cancer], [The Husband] being told about [his bro-in-law]'s affair and being so upset for [his sister], my having to go into a pitched battle with the care agency rep. No wonder I have developed a humungous stye from the stress of the last. My left eyelid is red and puffy and so sore, with the beginnings of a pimple.
I was exhausted by the end of the meeting. The social worker was good though. [My mother-in-law] was very upset, [The Husband] was having to placate her throughout. She was vociferously telling everyone she can cook a meal, knit, crochet, do her own washing and housework, none of which is true. She said “go up in the spare room and see the embroidery I am doing...”. It hasn’t been touched for about twenty years. She was holding her end up but it was all a delusion of her dementia. And the [Care Agency] rep went on to the attack about some of the family's actions and the state of the kitchen, which I can tell you was a BIG mistake...
...especially with everything I know about her irregularities. Which I am about to put in an e-mail to the social worker (she asked for a written complaint about the agency and said e-mail would do).
All the way through I could have put my head in my hands and wept, or got up, left the house and driven to Wales, but I had to stay and fight for [The Family] as [The Husband] doesn’t like conflict, [his sister] is heart-broken and out of the loop and Our Ma thinks it’s the late 1980s.
This went on for an hour-and-a-half.
I guess I was having a really bad day, or so it seemed at the time. But at least I was fighting my battle above ground. I wasn't one of thirty-three Chilean gold-miners trapped by an immense rockfall half a mile underground with just about enough rations for 48 hours. Which had to last until contact could be made by the outside world, if it ever would be. They had air in that shaft, in the pre-arranged refuge set up for such dreadful eventualities, but it was stiflingly hot and of very poor quality. It took two-and-a-half weeks for the narrow bore shaft being drilled by the rescuers to reach them, at which point improved air quality, communication, medicine (including anti-depressants), food and drink, physical and spiritual sustenance, love, hope and promises of rescue could be funnelled through it. Rescue "by Christmas". This at the very beginning of September.
What was that nonsense I typed yesterday about not bringing Christmas forward (or at least the crassly commercial aspects) and celebrating everything in the right order and on the due date? Forget I ever spoke. Which of us wouldn't have just this once had Christmas in the summer hols, eating turkey on the beach like our antipodean cousins are wont to do, if that would have got those fellows out quicker?
Being buried alive is fairly high-up on anyone's list of living nightmares. Those first seventeen days are unimaginable to anybody who hasn't had a parallel experience, perhaps been in a coma or an operation where they can hear but not move or speak. The Victorians had such a horror of being interred alive after being misdiagnosed as dead coffins were often made with bells inside for the roused "corpses" to signal their resurrection, preferably before being put six feet under. It's deep in the ghastly sludge of the bottom layer of the collective unconscious, being buried alive.
Last night I stayed awake until silly o'clock, watching the last few miners being raised to the surface in that magical out-sized cigar tube. I guess a good proportion of the world who have TV was similarly glued. It was, in a way, a little like the moon landing for the intensity of feeling. And, like that 1960s "miracle," it was actually no such thing. It wasn't a miracle, it was human endeavour and high technology, in my humanist-atheist view, but call it a miracle if you want. Certainly the Spanish word milagro was on everyone's lips this past day or two, from the Chilean president to a euphoric cabby in the nearby town of Copiapo. Belief in a miracle and the felt presence of a good and loving Saviour probably did more than the anti-depressants to keep the miners sane. So, in that sense, they can have their miracle and gladly.
As I said at the outset I've been thinking what I have enjoyed these past seven weeks whilst Don Lucho and his stalwart subterranean band of brothers sweated in semi-darkness. We've had much to remember fondly, to photograph and fold away in albums. We've had high summer running into a warm September, fine sunny days and gentle twilit evenings, sitting outdoors whenever possible to eat al fresco meals. We've enjoyed jolly convivial visits to and from friends and family. There was a wedding attended, yet more admired from a distance through the lenses of those who were there. There was the announcement of a baby on the way for a young couple whose wedding we went to last summer. Our Ma's had her 93rd birthday, a nephew has turned twenty-one, three babies amongst my acquaintance hauled themselves to their feet and learnt to walk, a great-nephew started school. Oh, and the successful resolution of the care review which was causing me such angst on 5 August.
I love the sky. I love being out beneath it, looking at it, and even being in it, be that in a plane or a microlight, or the balloon ride I hope I'll have a chance to take one day. I also love my gold jewellery, as if you couldn't guess, what with my blogname and all. I particularly treasure a chain with a Scandinavian cross, some earrings I've somehow managed to keep in pairs for twenty-odd years, and my rings. Especially my commitment jewellery, the wedding ring with touch of Welsh gold in it and CARIAD engraved on the inner surface (we married in Wales), the engagement ring with amethysts and diamonds, and the wide gold band with a wavy line incised round it, picked out in tiny diamonds, which The Husband got me when I turned 50, the year after my cancer treatment. But from now on I'll hold those two loves in the balance even more; The Sky v Gold & Diamonds. I'd find it hard to enjoy the latter if I contemplated for long the chance that some poor benighted soul had lost any chance of again breathing lungfuls of open air in bringing the ore and the stones to the surface.
In this historic year for Chile, life-changing for all those involved, when thirty-three miners were to all intents and purpose resurrected like their Sovereign Lord, I am sure many, many more workers in gold mines around the world will not be saved, one or two will perish there, a handful elsewhere, in deadly dribs and drabs, but the numbers will never be brought together and held in front of our eyes and conscience by the world's press speaking as one voice, as it has over this rescue.
Many individuals have had their consciousness raised on this issue before now, enough that they already refuse to buy brand-new modern pieces of fine jewellery, especially not gold and diamonds, The Daughter among them. She works for a major NGO and knows quite a bit about the horrendous conditions of employment in the gold and gem industries, the risks taken, and the safety issues ignored, and the dire effects some living conditions around mines have on miners and their families. She had already set me thinking even before the San Jose mine swallowed up that shift of workers. She aims to wear vintage pieces or antiques when the time comes for her to plight her troth, her logic being that she could have had no influence over what happened fifty, or a hundred or more years ago, but by not buying new she will do nothing to increase demand for newly-mined ore or stones in the future.
But such individuals are in a tiny minority at present. Entire national populations would need to think the same way to make much difference (and if India could break the fashion for such vast personal collections - dowry-like quantities - of wedding jewellery that would be an 80% cut in annual world-wide gold jewellery demand right there, by some reports). It will take more than the Naomi Campbell "blood" diamond case and the Chilean miners' rescue to bring about the disappearance of jewellers on the High Street in my lifetime, and it goes against our magpie fascination with flashing, glowing, scintillating shiny things to think it ever will. So I accept that we humans will in all likelihood always adorn ourselves with precious metals and gems. It just takes a case like this to remind us why such items are so revered and treasured.
They are difficult to reach and hard won. Very hard won indeed.