On being … in the dark

By Ingrid Sapona

As the story of the Thai soccer team in the cave was unfolding, I chose not to read articles about it. Part of the reason I avoided the details was that I couldn’t take the whole roller-coaster of emotions. The headlines alone took me – and the rest of the world – from fear, to disbelief, to worry, to sadness, then doubt, and ultimately – thankfully – to relief.

Whenever I did reflect on the story, my thoughts were very much about what the boys’ parents must be going through. As the days elapsed before the divers found them, I wondered how the families could have maintained hope in what seemed a hopeless situation. Then, I imagine the news that they’d been found must have seemed like a miracle. But, before the families could relax in the knowledge that their prayers had been answered, there came news of the rising water, the depleting oxygen level, and the coming worse weather.

As the news emerged about how treacherous the route into the cave was, I was struck by the bravery and selflessness of those involved in the rescue effort. And, on news of the death of the diver, my thoughts shifted to his family and how devastated they must feel.

I also began thinking more about the boys’ feelings. I wondered whether they knew that someone died trying to help them. Frankly, I hoped that the boys weren’t told at the time because the news made clear the difficulty of the situation and the danger. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help think that if they got out, survivor guilt may haunt them for the rest of their lives.

The story also made me think about how quickly an innocent decision can turn into a nightmare. Indeed, it brought to mind a cave adventure friends and I set out on years ago. We were staying at a lodge along a river in southern Belize. It had rained quite heavily the first couple days we were. As parts of the path between our huts submerged, we were reminded that it was hurricane season. Even so, we were surprised at how quickly the river rose around us. But, there was nothing we could do, and the locals seemed unfazed.

One of the excursions we had been interested in going on was cave swimming. I had a bit of trepidation about it, as I worried about bats. I think my friends had some fear too about possible claustrophobia. But, we all decided to conquer our fears and we signed up for it.

To get to the cave we took a boat and then had a slippery, miserable half-mile-or-so walk. When we got near the cave, we were told to wait while our guides went ahead to check the cave opening. When they returned they said the water was too high to go in.

On our way back to the lodge, the guides told us this was the first time they had ever decided against going in. They said we could try again in a few days, but we decided not to. Now, when I think about it, I realize how lucky we were to have experienced guides. It never occurred to me that if we had gotten in, the water could continue to rise. Clearly that young Thai coach and those boys never thought about that possibility either.

After the rescue of the soccer team, I went back and read some of the news stories I had purposely avoided. I was struck by how sweet the notes were that the boys wrote their families. They seemed to go out of their way to reassure everyone that they were alright. I couldn’t help wonder whether notes written by a bunch of North American teens trapped for so long without the basic necessities (not to mention connectivity) would be so pleasant.

One detail in particular got me thinking about how the boys coped during the 10 days before they were found. Apparently the coach, a former Buddhist monk, had taught them how to meditate. That struck me as a truly inspired idea, and – again – one I think few of us from North America would even think of.

The whole story has caused me to reflect on how I would have managed in the face of such a turn of events. How would I cope with the cold, the hunger, and not knowing whether anyone was looking for me? Would I manage to stay calm? Would I manage to remain hopeful? Or would the darkness get to me? I don’t know for sure, but I have my doubts…  

What about you?

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona


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