New Zealand is a long way from anywhere. Even Chile, our nearest neighbour to the east, is on the other side of the Pacific. So when we fly somewhere, we frequently fly for a long time. Those long flights, with too many stopovers, are often equated to being in a state of suspension, remote and separate from the world. When travelling economy class, with long flights, tight seats with no leg or shoulder room, stuck in a bolt upright position, getting progressively grubbier and grumpier, it feels like a form of torture, a variation of hell that, cruelly, we willingly pay for. And on these flights, during the 30 hours (give or take four or five) it takes to get to Delhi, or Montreal, or Washington DC, or Geneva, I frequently torment myself with thoughts of what it would feel like to lie down, in a bed, and sleep. There is nothing like arriving home or at a hotel, getting clean again, and then stretching out comfortably, on a soft mattress, in smooth, crisp, clean white sheets. The tension goes, sleep – blissful, relaxed, no-longer-in-hell sleep – arrives.
And so last night, or perhaps I should say early this morning, as I stretched out in my bed and sank into my pillow, I imagined the thoughts and feelings of the Chilean miners, stretching out in a real bed, breathing fresh air, for the first time in 68 days. I felt their joy, but I know it must have only been a fraction of their true euphoria. I spent much of yesterday afternoon glued to the BBC, watching their live coverage of the rescue. Unlike the miners, I have claustrophobic tendencies. I discovered this when I attempted to climb Siena’s Torre del Mangia or Bell Tower. My shoulders brushed the stone walls on both sides. I couldn’t see above me – more stone – or below. I very quietly freaked out and had to leave the tower. So the thought of the 20 minute journey in the Phoenix capsule, encased in a tube, surrounded by solid rock, is horrific to me. Yesterday, I watched the first man, a rescuer, enter the capsule and descend into the earth. I thought he must be the bravest man in the world. And later, with even more emotion, I watched the men ascend, back into our world, greeted by their anxious families. It felt wrong to go to bed until they were all up, but of course I did.
And now, as I post this, with BBC streaming on my laptop, the last of the 33 is in the capsule, on his way out. I realise I know nothing of torture, of stoicism, of patience or of bravery. And I am grateful that my life has not, so far, really required that of me.