Along with the rest of the world, I’m following the story of a soccer team and their coach who are trapped in a cave in Thailand. Discovered after nine days lost, the first stage of the rescue involved bringing in oxygen, food, and water to help restore strength to the victims. They’ve also taught the children to swim and brought messages back and forth from the kids’ harried parents. At the same time, rescue crews are watching the weather, pumping out water, and planning strategies for getting these thirteen people, mostly children, to safety. As I’m typing these words, the eighth child has been brought out, which is nothing short of a miracle. At the scene, highly trained rescue divers are working in teams to carry out their mission: one diver before and one diver behind each of the lost, guiding them one at a time through the treacherous two and a half mile cave system, in the dark, to safety. One diver holds the victim’s oxygen supply while the other leads the way. Despite their high degree of skill, one rescue diver has already been lost to oxygen depletion, but surviving team members from Thailand and around the world carry on.
There is so much about this story that compels us to watch and follow their progress: the inherent danger and the complicated rescue scenario, that the victims are children, that the impending monsoon season makes the rescue window perilously short, our innate longing for the euphoria of a happy ending in the wake of tragedy.
But I’m convinced that we’re watching because in some ways, their story is our story.
The boys and their coach entered the cave system despite warnings of the danger of flash flooding in a monsoon season. They misjudged the situation, and made a grave mistake. I’ve done that before, wandered into territory that had warning signs all over it, which I ignored at my peril. I’ve been trapped with regret, wished I could take back a decision that led to suffering. Unable to pull myself out, I’ve been in need of rescue, more times than I care to remember.
The coach who is with the boys is a twenty-five year old former monk, and he’s taught them to meditate to help them pass the time and not panic. I imagine this has been a godsend to them, but I’m sure they have their moments. They’re children, after all, and they’re scared, and they just want to go home. I’ve been like that before, crying out in the dark for help, hoping someone is listening, training my mind to be calm when all of my circumstances would tell me to panic. The boys and their coach have a choice to make, fear or trust, and they have to choose to believe that help is on the way, and that they will be okay in the end. And they see indicators of it, the divers who’ve made it to them and the messages they bring. But they would have no way of knowing the reality of the work and sacrifice that is being undertaken for their good, the prayers and hopes of a world that is on the edge of its seat, for them. Someday they’ll know.
I, too, have no idea about the rescue operations that have been undertaken for me, the many times I’ve been saved from physical danger by guardian angels and supernatural help. Like the many times I suddenly stopped breathing as a baby and my desperate parents ran through the streets of Boston to get me to a hospital. Or the time I had pneumonia when I was eight and something shifted in my lungs and I couldn’t get any air in at all, my mother throwing me over a humidifier and pounding on my back to no avail, the ambulance ride that followed. But more dangerous by far were the many circumstances and actions that necessitated the rescue of my spirit from darkness.
Someday I’ll know of all the work and sacrifice that’s been done to drag my trapped soul out of darkness and into the light. Someday I’ll appreciate the reality that I could never have done any of it on my own, and the supernatural aid that’s been given to teach me to train my mind, be courageous, and swim to light and safety. Someday I’ll thank a lot of people face to face.
Until then, I get messages and I get help. People share their oxygen with me, and their peace, and their goodness. I suit up to bring what I have to others and I endeavor to bring people into the light, but I’m no hero. Like Leo McGarry said in maybe my favorite episode of The West Wing, when you’re in trouble, the thing you most need is a friend, someone who knows the way out. I’ve had friends who’ve done this for me, and I try hard to be a friend who helps others. One thing’s for sure, we can’t do it alone.
Please pray today for the eight boys who are healing, the four boys and their coach who await rescue, the rescuers and their families. God, have mercy on them, keep them safe, and help us see in their story the people you are calling us to be. In Jesus’ name, Amen.