In the movies, in every mine shaft or cave or underground scene, there is a steady dripping of water.
I don't know that that's true in real life, but I have the image in my head nonetheless. It's the standard television indication that a person is underground. The dark, the slight reverb, and the omnipresent sound.
Maybe that's how it is for you. I don't really know. I've never been trapped in a mine, never been that deep underground. If you get out alive, you'll have to let me know if you had to put up with that sound, that annoying, repetitive sound.
Hi. This is an open letter to anyone who may be trapped in the Massey Energy Mine after the accident that's killed a bunch of good people and trapped several others who, at least as of this writing, have not yet been found, and who may still be alive. I'd be interested to know if there really is a steady dripping sound in the mines, and if, listening to it while you're trapped down there, if it brought to mind any thoughts of a heartbeat, or a metronome, time ticking away, each drip bringing you that much closer to death or some such flowery metaphor. If I was a better writer I'd include the proper metaphors here. But that's not really what I want to talk about.
I doubt you have wireless down there, but I wanted to write you this just in case, to let you know that we--and by "we" I mean "lots of us who are totally not trapped in the mine with you"--have got your back. People are praying for you and everything! Swear to you all, we're behind you all the way. Way behind you, really, because we're sure as hell not following you down there.
Don't get me wrong. I'm sorry about what's happened, and I'd like nothing better than to head on down there and dig you out myself. Unfortunately, that's not really my thing. I've got a job to do, and bills to pay, and dogs to walk, all the sorts of things that seemed so important to you too until a few days ago, and these things really take precedence. I can't take the time to help you out.
Plus I don't know a thing about mining, while you're a bunch of professionals. I assume that if even the professionals got caught in this accident, a neophyte like me wouldn't stand a chance. Best to keep my distance.
See, the thing is, I don't trust your boss. You may have heard of him. CEO Don Blankenship. Name ring a bell? I imagine it does. Anyone who is forced to endure the working conditions you do should know the name of the person responsible. He owns the Massey Energy coal mine that you're trapped in now. It's a non-union mine, which is the way he likes it.
It's an interesting contradiction that union mines have much greater lists of safety violations, and at the same time have a much lower fatality rate. This tends to happen because the union mine inspectors are concerned about worker safety, and will cite any violation they see to prevent it from growing into a much larger problem that could pose a safety hazard and potentially endanger lives. Non-union mines, on the other hand, tend to be inspected by people who are concerned about keeping the mine open, so as long as there aren't any fires or cave-ins occurring while they're in the mine, they'll let anything else slide. Therefore, problems don't get dealt with until people are injured or killed. The safety record looks better because the record isn't being kept.
I'm sure you've heard how Don Blankenship, rather than spend millions of dollars to improve mine safety, chose instead to spend millions of dollars to buy the election of the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court. This was in part to unseat a judge who was expected to rule against Massey in a lawsuit. This would have worked great, except that the United States Supreme Court stepped in and stated so much money was spent to elect him that he couldn't rule on the case involving Massey, overturning two previous rulings by Blankenship's personal judge in Blankenship's favor. When he's not buying judges, he's buying himself nice things that only money can buy--$33.7 million of money in 2005 alone, according to reports. He has his own corporate jet, and a house built with company money that, per the contract, becomes his once he leaves the company.
That may sound like he's got it easy, but try to picture it from his perspective. Here he just wanted to spend a weekend on the country club golf course, and now he's got to do press conferences and act concerned and pretend to care about what happens to you, plus--this is the part that really hurts him--the mine is closed during all of this, meaning he can't make any money off of it until people other than him go into the mine he's kept as productive as possible, safety considerations be damned, and get you out. It's stressful and tiresome, and the whole thing leaves him with a load of bad PR. When you think about it that way, you really do have to feel sorry for the guy.
Say, you're not getting any of that lethal gas that's hindering the rescue efforts getting in down there where you are, are you? I hope not. Just to be on the safe side, maybe you should try not to breathe so much. I got your back, guys.
By the way, I know I'm being kind of general here, kind of impersonal, and referring to you as "guys" rather than anything more specific. Sorry if that bothers you, but I'd prefer not to personalize this too much. See, it's like puppies. You ever go to get a puppy, and you check over the puppies available, and then you spot the runt of the litter, the sick, weak, crippled one, still gamely plugging along despite the odds, and your heart goes out to it and you fall in love with it, so you adopt it and take it home and care for it and feed it and play with it and love it and do everything in your power to make its like as easy and joyous and wonderful as you possibly can, and then one day, a few months after you've adopted it, the little fucker up and dies on you anyway, leaving you heartbroken, even though deep down you knew all along that it never had much of a chance, only you couldn't help yourself, and now you wish you hadn't invested so much of your heart and soul on such an unlikely belief, the belief that you, through the power and strength of you love and hope and determination, could make a difference and change that puppy's life, and now it's gone, just as it would be if you'd never gotten involved, only you did, so now you're left with the pain and suffering of losing something you cared so much about despite knowing from the very beginning that this was the way it was going to end, and you wish you had just kept your distance so you didn't hurt so much now? Well, frankly, things aren't looking so good for you right about now, and I'd rather not get to feeling like I'm too close to you, like I did with that puppy. You know what they say, "Fool me once..." I'm sure you understand.
And if you don't, I'm sure Don Blankenship does.
Anyway, as I was saying, I got your back, guys. And it's not just me. It's lots of people. You may be buried hundreds of feet underground with thousands of tons of rock between you and escape, between you and life itself, but you should know that many, many people are praying for your safety. Doesn't that warm your heart? It should. Praying is a lot of work. When you pray, you're addressing god directly, and that's an awesome responsibility. It's really... It's... I just...
Okay, I'll level with you here. A lot of people are praying for you, but I'm not one of them. I don't see the point. Please don't take that the wrong way. I want you to be safe. I want you to be rescued and go on with your lives and ideally work in a field that Don Blankenship has no influence over. But I don't see how praying for your safety is going to accomplish that.
Look, I'm all for prayer. It makes you feel great without doing anything. Take the homeless, for example. These are people who need assistance, and there's a lot of things to do to help. You can volunteer at a shelter or a kitchen. You can work with government agencies that assist the homeless. You can contact your local, state, and federal legislature to encourage new laws and improvements in programs to assist the homeless. So naturally, that's not what most people do, because frankly, that takes a lot of work, and most people don't have the time. Job, bills, dog, as above.
So what they do is pray. Rather than go out and help, they kneel down and say a quick prayer, sometimes out loud, sometimes just in their head, and then they get up on go on with their day, any potential guilt for their inaction assuaged because they passed the buck to god. Kneeling by the side of the bed and convincing yourself that you've helped the homeless is much easier than volunteering or assisting or, y'know, actually helping the homeless in some way. It also helps in situations that are utterly out of the influence of the person doing the praying. Most of us can't assist in rescuing trapped miners, but a prayer allows us to at least pretend that, on some level, we are accomplishing something productive. Praying helps the person doing the praying, not the person being prayed for.
Oh, I'm sure that thought will upset people. Suggesting that prayer doesn't help other people isn't the sort of thing that people who pray will agree with. I understand that. But think about this: When bad things happen, people are encouraged to pray, the more the better, the implication being that if enough people pray, and if they pray strongly enough, they can influence what ends up happening. Perhaps this is true, but if it is, it's a very strange system, don't you think? A system where god and his (or her) divine master plan can be changed through petition, where the being with the power to influence the outcome will only do so if enough people care about the person in question to put in a large enough number of prayers. As for the meek and the poor and the downtrodden, well... Sorry, guys. Maybe if you were more popular things would have turned out better for you.
I don't like the concept of that system, because I have a lot of trouble accepting prayer working like a PBS pledge drive. Like if little Timmy gets sick, as kids named Timmy are wont to do, you'd think parents would just stop naming their kids Timmy after a while, but people never learn... But if Timmy gets sick, seriously ill, and people start praying for him, how exactly does that play out?
"Hi everyone, welcome to our prayer drive for little Timmy. He's ill, and he's not doing well, but there's still hope for him if we can get enough prayer. It's going to take ten thousand people praying for Timmy to keep him here. If we don't reach of prayer goal, I'm afraid little Timmy is going to be cancelled. We don't want to do that. We're committed to providing quality children for your community, and Timmy's one of the best, but we can't do this without your support. We need your help to continue providing you with Timmy. Contact us now, pray now, show your support for Timmy. Every prayer counts, every prayer brings us a little closer to our goal. Without your prayers, Timmy won't be there anymore. Timmy won't be a part of your community, he won't be there to make you laugh, he won't be around to be a part of your lives. Timmy will be gone forever if you don't help out. Only you can make a difference, only you can keep Timmy around, so pray now!"
What the hell kind of god works like that?
So, sorry guys, but I'm not praying. I'm hoping for the best. I'm wishing you well. But I'm not deluding myself into believing I'm doing anything more than that. Lots of people up here disagree with me, though, and are praying their little hearts out before they head off to the theater to watch Date Night.
I also want you to know that people are not just praying for you. Many of them are also updating their Facebook statuses for you. Yes! Many people are choosing to interrupt their stream of updates about what they're planning for dinner and how bored they are at their jobs at Blockbuster to post an update wishing you well. People care about you just that much.
In fact, it's even better than that. Allow me to blow your mind: Some people are updating their Facebook statuses with requests for prayer! Facebook status updates and prayer combined in one power-packed effort to help rescue you! Prayer and Facebook combined! HOLY FUCKING SHIT! YOU'RE AS GOOD AS RESCUED ALREADY!!!
Okay, probably not. I get a little carried away sometimes. But it's the thought that counts, right? And if people are thinking enough about you to post prayer updates, and prayer requests, and requests for prayer chains, all for you and your families and those who are genuinely trying to rescue you, that makes a difference, right? I just wanted you to know this. I figure you can use all the moral support you can get.
To my knowledge, no one is praying, or posting Facebook status updates, or praying in their Facebook status, for more union mines, or more safety inspections, or stronger regulation of mines regarding situations such as you are faced with now. As far as I know, the people who are leading the prayers are not contacting anyone in government or involved in industrial workplace safety to prevent future catastrophes that occur when the profit margin takes precedence over human lives. No one is writing to their congressman demanding that people like Don Blankenship are required to take some of the money that goes toward their personal jet and divert it to safety improvements. You know, things that would actually prevent repeats of what you're going through, and potentially save lives in the future? Yeah, there's none of that. Just prayer and Facebook updates. But don't worry. If things continue as they have been, and there's another accident in the future, these people will be back on the front lines of Facebook urging everyone to pray for the next set of trapped miners. Because they care.
So rest easy, guys. We all know what you're going through. In an intellectual, "I read it in the news" sense, anyway. I'm sure most of us have never been buried underground with out scant hope of survival depending entirely on the actions of other people. But we know you're trapped, and we're praying that you get out safely.
Rest assured, we will follow this story relentlessly, or at least periodically, waiting for updates, hoping for the best.
Rest well. We're behind you, all the way.
Rest in peace.