I really spoke too soon the other day when I celebrated the discovery of those boys missing in the cave in Thailand. I was far too sanguine.
Turned out their situation was still horrifically perilous. So perilous, in fact, that this just would not work as fiction. In “Lassie,” Timmy was always falling down an old mineshaft or something (this was such a common plot device in the late ’50s that as a little kid I had the impression the whole country was honeycombed with abandoned mines, all of them covered only with rotting boards that wouldn’t even hold a small boy’s weight). But all Lassie had to do was get within hearing of the shaft, hear Timmy yell, “Go for help, girl!” and the day was saved.
A fictional plot like this would be dismissed by the most credulous viewer as too contrived: It takes six hours, much of it underwater, even for an elite diver to get to the precarious shelf where the boys are, cut off by rising rainwater. It’s so difficult that a veteran diver, a former Thai Navy SEAL, died Friday just trying to place spare air tanks along the route. The boys can’t swim. Even if they could, they’re not trained SCUBA divers. Some of the passages through which they have to pass are so tight that air tanks would have to be removed for even the kids to get through them. It’s so hard to get them out that consideration was given to leaving them there for months until the rainy season is over, resupplying them for the duration. But no — the monsoons continue to fall, meaning the water in the cave will rise.
What else could possibly go wrong?
And yet, amazingly, things went wonderfully right today: They got four of the boys out! Which is just astounding as well as wonderful. But it will be hours, perhaps a day, before more get out. Imagining the terror, the physical exertion, the determination and courage it took those four weakened boys to get out makes me shudder.
But they got out!
A lot of attention has focused on the one adult with them, 25-year-old assistant soccer coach Ekapol Chanthawong, a former Buddhist monk. Some have been critical, saying he should never have gotten the boys into such a situation. But the story plays differently within Thailand itself:
But for many in Thailand, Ekapol, who left his life in the monkhood three years ago and joined the Wild Boars as an assistant coach soon after, is an almost divine force, sent to protect the boys as they go through this ordeal. A widely shared cartoon drawing of Ekapol shows him sitting cross-legged, as a monk does in meditation, with 12 little wild boars in his arms.
According to rescue officials, he is among the weakest in the group, in part because he gave the boys his share of the limited food and water they had with them in the early days. He also taught the boys how to meditate and how to conserve as much energy as possible until they were found.
“If he didn’t go with them, what would have happened to my child?” said the mother of Pornchai Khamluang, one of the boys in the cave, in an interview with a Thai television network. “When he comes out, we have to heal his heart. My dear Ek, I would never blame you.”…
During my brief stay in Thailand three years ago, I was often impressed by the straightforward piety that runs through the hearts of the people there. Just one of many illustrations: We spent two nights in the farmhouse of my daughters’ adoptive “grandparents” in the rural village in which she served her two years in the Peace Corps. In the corner of the room in which we slept on floor pallets there was a small Buddhist shrine.
On the morning we were leaving, before she would let us go, the “grandmother” kneeled before the shrine and let us know we were to kneel beside her. Of course we did, as she prayed for our safety during the rest of our journey. We were deeply touched.
And as it happened, we had a wonderful time, and our trip was remarkably free of untoward incidents.
Call that good luck if you like, but I think all good-faith efforts to reach out sincerely to the Divine have value, however you define the Divine and whatever your dogma. In any case, the presence of that spiritual young man seems to be helping to keep those boys going under the most trying of circumstances.
I don’t have a shrine in my house, but I’ll be going to Mass later today. And on this Sunday, I hope and pray the other nine boys get out as safely as the first four. And that Ekapol does, too…