The workers were stuck at levels between 914m and 1219m underground.
When we first heard the news story about this on Monday, none of the miners had been rescued but all of them were safely in a room, an underground refuge station, created for such an emergency. As I followed the story for the next two days, until Wednesday when the last miner safely surfaced, I couldn’t help but think of what must have gone through the miners’ minds as they sat together in the refuge station waiting for rescue.
In my imagination, they first assessed the possibilities for their rescue. Since they were never cut off from the surface by phone, I assumed they received encouraging news telling them there was a viable rescue plan in place. I also assumed they had been trained for such an emergency. And yet, I could imagine them, imagining all the possibilities. When you are over a kilometer beneath the surface of the earth and your regular route out is blocked, I’m guessing all the assurance in the world does not quiet the mind.
I watched a video interview with Henry Bertrand, one of the trapped miners. He described how, when the accident occurred, there was an ‘All Stations’ alarm. The workers made their way to the refuge station where they waited to hear from control. Henry said it had lights and communication. He also said that during the three days the miners were below surface, food was brought down to the trapped miners by rescue workers from Ontario Mine Rescue and from Vale Mine Rescue. Some of the men needed medication, and that too, was brought down.
In the first hours, Henry said they passed the time with light conversation, trying to keep morale high. He said later they got to know each other much better. He did not elaborate on the exact details of the conversation, but as an observer of people, it was easy to see he had been impacted by those conversations and by the time underground. I can’t help but think that as the hours and days passed, their thoughts might have turned to, “When I get out of here….”. Or perhaps, “I wish I had….” Or perhaps, “If I get another chance…”
Most of us will never work in a mine. Nor will we even be inside one. None of us would choose being trapped underground, not even in a refuge station. Yet all of us can relate to what these men must have been going through. Perhaps not to the details, but certainly to the idea of being on our own, thinking about our lives. I’ve been picturing that refuge station. It was a safe place to wait. It was not an assurance of a safe return to normal life. But as it was so aptly named, it gave refuge.
Every single one of us needs places of refuge; places we can go to ponder our situation, perhaps to talk it over with trusted others. Places where we can consider who we want to be when we return to our normal lives. Young mothers often jokingly say the bathroom is such a place. It’s the one place they can hear themselves think and remind themselves of the mother they wish to be. Some people find refuge on a walk or run or bike ride. Some find it in their church community. Some in quiet meditation. Some in the company of a good friend, or in a warm embrace. Some find it while cooking or knitting or working creatively in other ways. Some find it in groups and some alone.
I find refuge in nature. It’s there I release the demands of daily living. I release the tumbling thoughts of what I could or should be doing. I give myself permission to appreciate my life and to ponder the person I strive to be. I’m lucky. I have good friends to ponder with. We don’t always have good solutions, but we provide the space for thoughts to be voiced. Sometimes that’s enough.
The miners did not just get lucky and happen to have a refuge station at their disposal on Sunday when they became trapped. Their place of refuge was carefully planned and named. I also don’t believe any one of the thirty-nine of them signed up for the job just to have the possibility of pondering life waiting for rescue in a refuge station. But I suspect now they are all safely above ground, each of them will be grateful for the thoughts they were able to have.
Neither do the rest of us want to have the need for refuge. Nor do we have refuge stations placed randomly in our lives. Occasionally we do find ourselves in an unplanned place of refuge, and we recognize the feeling there, but most often, we need to think about what provides us the best refuge and plan some time for it into our lives.
Just like the miners, once we are back in our ‘real’ lives, we may not be able to implement all our thoughts pondered in our place of refuge. But if we regularly give ourselves short periods of refuge, our thoughts soon become our habits, and we grow closer to who we long to become.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘Where is my refuge?’
Elizabeth is a certified professional Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership coaching. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. She has particular expertise in facilitating Strategic Plans for organizations. Contact Elizabeth to learn to create refuge.