Frank Capra’s classic film, “It’s a Wonderful Life” in which Jimmy Stewart, as George Bailey gets a glimpse of what Bedford Falls would have been like without him in it, came to mind the other day.
We were returning from Frederick, Maryland, where we had gone to help celebrate the life of Ed Shaughnessy, our daughter-in-law Catherine’s Dad.
Ed Shaughnessy. Dad. Grandpa. Honey. Big Ed. Mr. Wonderful. Known by many names. Known by many people.
After the funeral, back at the house on Culler Avenue, they gathered for a family picture in the back yard. Ed and Mary’s eight children and fifteen grandchildren. Assorted brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. Eyes and hair lines, noses and smiles bespeaking evidence of common DNA.
Like George Bailey, Ed Shaughnessy made a difference. Just one man, just one human life. But it made a difference. Ed Shaughnessy mattered to a lot of people. He mattered to this old world of ours.
We got home in time to see Florencio Avolos emerge from the capsule, and watch a nation rejoice. Watch the whole world celebrate. One man, brought back from the tomb. One trapped miner rescued. One human life saved.
The drama in the Chilean desert has captivated everybody. The government, the media, the relatives and friends, the curious; they’re elbow to elbow and shoulder to shoulder. They come to see, to help, just to be there.
They come and they care because human life matters.
And because every human life is a story.
The rescue proceeds at a slow, deliberate pace. No mistakes, no accidents can be tolerated. The triumph of humanity and technology over nature and happenstance demands caution and forethought. Anticipate every complication. There is risk enough that is unavoidable. Don’t take any unnecessary chances.
And so the men come up one at a time. Every thirty or forty minutes, another round trip to the bowels of the earth brings another man to the cheering crowd, to the arms of President Sebatian Pineros, to the waiting doctors and emergency vehicles. Every thirty or forty minutes the media has another face, another name, another story.
Ariel Ticona, whose child was born while he was entombed in the mine.
Yonni Barrios, whose wife and mistress met in the crowd.
Jonathan Franklin, a stringer for the Manchester Guardian who has been in Chile for 16 years, has already circulated his book proposal, “33 Men Buried Alive: the Inside Story of the Trapped Chilean Miners.” The manuscript will be ready in December.
Even before the last miner returns to the surface of the earth, the pundits are predicting that none of the 33 survivors will ever have to work in the mines – or anywhere else for that matter – again. Book deals, movie rights, the whole panoply of commercial goodies that accompany celebrity, will be available.
Of course, nobody begrudges them their belated good fortune. 69 days in a tomb is a heavy price to pay for notoriety.
Still, I wonder.
The mine collapsed on August 5, 2010. Since that day, while the world was focused on the plight of 33 miners in Chile, the following 103 members of the Armed Services of the United States were killed in the line of duty: John E. Andrade of San Antonio, Texas; Vincent E. Gammone III, of Christiana, Tennessee; Kevin M. Cornelius, of Ashtabula, Ohio; Faith R. Hinkley, of Colorado Springs, Colorado; Max A. Donahue, of Highlands Ranch, Colorado; Kristopher D. Greer, of Ashland City, Tennessee; Paul D. Cuzzupe of Plant City, Florida; Bradley D. Rappahn, of Grand Ledge, Michigan; Andrew C. Nicol, of Eaton, Michigan; Christopher N. Karch, of Indianapolis, Indiana; Michael A. Bock, of Leesburg, Florida; Jamal M. Rhett, of Palmyra, New Jersey; Edgar A. Roberts, of Hineville, Georgia; Charles M. High IV, of Albuquerque, New Mexico; Benjamin G. Chisholm, of Fort Worth, Texas; Derek J. Farley, of Nassau, New York; Collin Thomas of Morehead, Kentucky; Kevin E. Oratowski, of Wheaton, Illinois; Christopher S. Wright, of Tollesboro, Kentucky; Christopher J. Boyd, of Palatine, Illinois; Martin A. Lugo, of Tucson, Arizona; Cody S. Childers, of Chesapeake, Virginia; Alexis V. Maldonado, of Wichita Falls, Texas; Nathaniel J. A. Schultz, of Safety Harbor, Florida; Jason D. Calo, of Lexington, Kentucky; Brandon E. Maggart of Kirksville, Missouri; Triston H. Southworth, of West Danville, Vermont; Steven J. Deluzie, of South Glastonbury, Connecticut; Robert J. Newton, of Creve Couer, Illinois; Ronald A. Rodrigues, of Falls Church, Virginia; Justin B. Shoecraft, of Elkhart, Indiana; Pedro A. Millet Meletiche, of Elizabeth, New Jersey; Adam A. Novak, of Praire du Sac, Wisconsin; Chad D. Coleman, of Moreland, Georgia; Daniel L. Fedder, of Pine City, Minnesota; James A. Swink, of Yucca Valley, California; Patrick K. Durham, of Chattanooga, Tennessee; Andrew J. Castro, of Westlake Village, California; Floyd E. C. Holley, of Casselberry, Florida; Bryn T. Raver, of Harrison, Arkansas; Ellery R. Wallace, of Salt Lake City, Utah; James R. Ide, of Festus, Missouri; Casey J. Grochowiak, of Lompac, California; Mark A. Noziska, of Papillon, Nebraska; Chad D. Clements, of Huntington, Indiana; Matthew J. West, of Conover, Wisconsin; Kevin J. Kessler, of Canton, Ohio; Jesse Infante, of Cypress, Texas; Dale A. Goetz, of White, South Dakota; James A. Page, of Titusville, Florida; Matthew E. George, of Gransboro, North Carolina; Raymond C. Alcaraz, of Redlands, California; Vinson B. Adkinson III, of Harper, Kansas; Cody A. Roberts of Boise, Idaho; Joseph A. Bovia, of Kenner, Louisiana; Christopher B. Rogers, of Griffin, Georgia; Diego M. Montoya, of San Antonio, Texas; Joshua T. Twigg, of Indiana, Pennsylvania; Ross A. Carver of Rocky Point, North Carolina; Jesse M. Balthaser, of Columbus, Ohio; Jason T. McMahon, of Mulvane, Kansas; James F. McClamrock, of Huntersville, North Carolina; Phillip c. Jenkins, of Decatur, Indiana; Phillip G. E. Charte, of Goffstown, New Hampshire; John C. Bishop, of Columbus, Indiana; Todd W. Weaver, of Hampton, Virginia; James A. Hanson, of Athens, Michigan; Timothy L. Johnson, of Randolph, New York; Daniel R. Sanchez, of El Paso, Texas; Aaron K. Kramer, of Salt Lake City, Utah; John F. Burner III, of Baltimore, Maryland; Scott J. Fleming, of Marietta, Georgia; Jamie C. Newman, of Richmond, Virginia; Joshua A. Harton, of Bethlehem, Indiana; Barbara Vieyra, of Mesa, Arizona; Ronald A. Grider, of Brighton, Illinois; Eric Yates, of Rinneyville, Kentucky; Joshua S. Ose, of Hernando, Mississippi; Marvin R. Calhoun Jr., of Elkhart, Indiana; Joshua D. Powell, of Pleasant Plains, Illinois; Donald D. McClellan, of St. Louis Park, Minnesota; Matthew G. Wagstaff, of Oren, Utah; Robert F. Baldwin, of Muscatin, Iowa; Denis C. Miranda, of Toms River, New Jersey; Adam D. Smith, of Hurland, Missouri; David B. McLendon, of Thomasville, Georgia; Brendon J. Looney, of Omings, Missouri; Michael J. Buras, of Fitzgerald, Georgia; Anthony J. Rosa, of Swanton, Vermont; Clinton E. Springer II, of Sanford, Maine; Gebrah P. Noonan, of Watertown, Connecticut; John Cavillo, Jr., of Stockton, California; Marc C. Whisenant, of Holly Hill, Florida; Jaysine P. S. Petree, of Yiga, Guam; William B. Dawson, of Tunica, Mississippi; Donald S. Morrison, of Cincinnati, Ohio; Mark A. Simpson, of Peoria, Illinois; Ralph J. Fabbri, of Gallitzin, Pennsylvania; Calvin B. Harrison, of San Antonio, Texas; Mark Forester, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama; and Timothy M. Jackson, of Corbin, Kentucky.
I wonder who will write their stories.
I wonder who will celebrate their lives.
I wonder what the world would be like if they had lived.