I’m in Bangkok, Thailand—during the time of so much human turmoil around the world. Natural disasters and man-made disasters and mass hysteria—floods in Japan, children in cages, Syria, volcanoes, plane crashes.

And there’s the craziness with real emotion—joy, tears, despair, hatred, hooliganism at the horrendously expensive entertainment of the FIFA World Cup in Russia. We pay to gain … humiliation, degradation, disdain and debt.

Four days ago, a ferry sank off Phuket, Thailand, with 141 people on board. Only 79 were rescued. This tragedy disappeared off the front pages almost as soon as it happened.

The cave rescue effort

I’m also in Thailand during the disappearance, discovery and ongoing rescue of 12 boys and their football coach from a cave in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

It’s the second day of the rescue. Four boys were rescued last night, and so far on Monday night, another three have been recovered. And the rain has started in Bangkok and my heart is in my throat.

Since the beginning of the rescue yesterday, I’ve found myself glued to my laptop, until the rescue paused last night. I forget to breathe and I remember that I’m a master diver, that these kids are going to be doing some of the most gruelling diving on the planet, that some of them don’t even know how to swim, that they’ve been in that hole for over two weeks, and that the rescue divers have an astronomic task.

And I think to myself, ‘breathe, breathe slowly, breathe calmly’. And I do, with them all in mind. I keep checking to see if, perhaps, another child has made it out. I cover the articles about the coach, the disgraceful media, the circus—the one that I’m helping to create by constantly wanting updates.

And I think of ‘what if’. What if they don’t get them all out? What if they do, but not all alive? How will those who’ve survived feel? How will the divers feel, the coach, the parents? I can put myself in their places because I’m a mother and a diver who has done cave dives, and I have sons who dive.

I can imagine if I were to get stuck. I can imagine trying to rescue. And I shudder and … no, I don’t hope, I simply watch.

The smallness, the innocence

Entrance to cave with diversWith all the horrific things happening on the planet now, what is it that’s gluing me and the world to the scene of only 12 boys, in a cave?

I can almost put my arms around them. We can touch a cave, go there; there’s a hole, there’s a space.

I’ve come to feel it’s the ‘smallness’ of the tragedy—not in tragedy terms, but in the numbers, in the area. We can count the numbers on our fingers and toes. We can relate to them, make them personal. We can hold them in our hands. I can almost put my arms around them. We can touch a cave, go there; there’s a hole, there’s a space. It feels manageable, attainable—so much so that even Elon Musk feels the ability to get involved.

We somehow all ‘get it’. The boys went on an adventure with their coach, they got stuck, it rained, they’re in trouble. There’s no external entity involved in their demise, no raving lunatics, no racist action, no guns, no slurs, no sexism or fascism, no activism, no hatred.

And perhaps that’s it: the smallness and innocence of boys going on an outing, having fun, being together, being boys. Twelve boys and their coach having an adventure, becoming lost, getting stuck.

We’ve all been there; we can all relate to a time in our lives that we’ve started an adventure, such as a new relationship, a job, university, school, a move to a new town or travelling. The planning is fun, we’re excited, we know where we’re going, we think we know the outcome. And then things happen, unexpected things, and we lose our way. We get stuck and need to be rescued. Sometimes we are, but some are not.

As I write this sentence, another boy has been rescued (bringing the total to eight boys) and the effort has ended for the day. Four boys and their coach are going to spend another night in the cave, and it’s raining, and I whisper ‘shit’. I understand, but just … breathe.

Finally out!

It’s two hours and forty-two minutes, exactly, into day three of the rescue. How do  I know? I haven’t moved for six hours. After spending two hours tutoring English (subject: “the boys in the cave, your thoughts, your hopes”), I came directly home and have been glued to my screen, sharing with my family and friends around the world.

The boys and their coach have all been rescued. I’ve never seen something so astounding happening. And I can say ‘never’—I’ve done some rather weird joss in my three score and five. The odds were stacked, and they weren’t for them. And I have tears in my eyes. Tears of gratitude, compassion and joy. I am in awe. I breathe.

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image: Rescue equipment in Tham Luang entrance chamber.jpg By NBT via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 3.0]