Thursday, January 05, 2006

Broken hearts covered in coal dust.

My father was a coal miner, for most of the 10 years he was actively in my life. We lived in coal areas as diverse as Kentucky, Illinois, Colorado, and West Virginia. Buchanan, WV, specifically, in an little area called Tallmansville. It was a hauntingly beautiful place, a mix of the Appalachian culture I was used to with some markings of New England. My father worked the mines there, but I couldn't tell you if it was the Sago mines. It was almost 25 years ago, the name has changed. It was definitely that area. I remember the church I saw on CNN, the church where the families of 13 trapped miners sat trying to comfort each other as they waited..and waited. Then, inexplicably to me, there was news of 12 Miners alive. It didn't ring true to me. The levels of methane that was measured, I knew from long experience, couldn't support life that long. Three hours ticked by, then the truth that I had felt all along was revealed: only one survived. I watched CNN as the CEO of the coal company told those people that there had been a mistake. I heard the screams from the church on TV. The coal company knew 20 minutes after the first announcement that it was probably wrong. They let those families sit there, in rapture, for three hours thinking they would see their men alive again. They rushed the only survivor to St. Joseph's, a hospital too small to help him (Pikeville Hospital is bigger). My father got his hand stitched up there, after a piece of coal cut the top of his hand.

I felt a special sickness watching all of this. Unlike 9/11, I was part of the culture these people came from. I know that faith is the deepest part of their psyche. Faith keeps miners going into the mines, hoping they come out alive. Faith that if they keep that job, they feed their families. Faith in a Christian god that miracles happen. The CEO of International Coal group, Ben Hatfield, with one sentence, shattered the one deepest part these people use to survive. I am not a Christian, and I don't believe in an absolute Hell. But the obscenity of letting those people have hope for 3 hours, while knowing the truth, deserves punishment enough for 12 lifetimes in Hell. Actually, a special circle of Hell needs made just for them; one that looks like the tunnels of a deep, dark mineshaft, with eternal suffocation. Forever looking at a tarp, covering an opening, that will never protect you from the fumes you know are coming for you. That is the punishment they deserve.