Dante’s Divine Comedy starts: Along the journey of our life half way/ I found myself again in a dark wood ... And this leads him on to the entrance to a place where the motto above the gate is, Abandon All Hope You Who Enter Here. [Peter Dale’s - my favourite translation].That place, of course, is The Inferno, which we call Hell. The life half way is 35 years of age, half of three score years and ten; his mid-life crisis, if you will.
It is a place that we all find ourself in at some point in our life. There are those who like to pretend that their whole life is one long trajectory of success. But what the collective experience of humanity teaches us is that nobody’s life is really like that - at some point reality bursts in, and all the ‘achievements’ are literally kicked into touch. We are like Alexander the Great on his death bed - surprisingly. We have conquered the world and now unexpectedly we are in a place - somewhat prematurely - where we didn’t expect to be. All those we love, and our foot soldiers even, troop past for us to see them one last time as our glittering eyes start to dim. At this point we ask: What was Alexander the Great thinking?
The darkness surrounds us. As Milton said, in another epic poem, Long is the way / And hard, that out of Hell leads up to Light.
The Radio 4 PM programme on the 14/10 featured some top-notch agent from Curtis Brown talking about the potential issues and publications potentially arising from the Chilean mining disaster-turned-triumph. It was strange to hear someone so commercially savvy and yet so lacking in imagination. For instance, he queried whether in a year’s time there would still be interest in the story. Perhaps the real reason for this indifference to the fate of the story was because his own agency had no chance of scooping it; or perhaps, as I said at first, he perhaps he simply lacked all imagination; for the story is primary, primeval, and utterly compelling. Whoever is not moved by this story must already be dead.
The story is literally true - 33 men trapped in the bowels of the Earth for 69 days - and also a metaphor for all of us. Perhaps the nearest great story I can think of in the last 100 years that compares with it is Shackleton’s great Antartic voyage and the entire salvation of all 29 men on the expedition.
And what saves people? The President of Chile said it all: commitment, faith, team work. All of us at some time or another are trapped in the bowels of the Earth - in the darkness where we cannot see or discern light. We need faith, we need commitment, and most brilliantly we need others to help us; but not just to help us, we need to be part of the team. According to our strengths, abilities and talents, we must contribute too.
Isn’t this a metaphor for modern Britain? Deep in the darkness of its own financial excavations, its own lax principles and so-called ‘freedoms’, firmly embedded in its own me-first attitudes from the top down, we are stuck and in danger of dying from our own bleak surfeits. Let’s hope that the new Government stays true to its initial impulses - for we need this kind of leadership exactly in the same way as the Chilean miners needed Luis Urzua, their shift supervisor.