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Ricardo Leiva Soto, Professor of Economics and Business Administration, University of Navarra, Spain School

How to survive 70 days underground

Sat, 16 Oct 2010 09:53:03 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

As he marched for miles over the ice in the Auschwitz concentration camp, Victor Frankl remembered his wife and was happy. Behind him he had a Nazi pushing him with a rifle and calling him a pig, but he concentrated on the smiling face of his wife, and continued on, staggering but dignified, barely holding on to the memory of his beloved when his legs faltered and all seemed lost. "I understood how man, dispossessed of everything in this world, can still know happiness, even if only momentarily, if he contemplates the loved one," he wrote in that indispensable book graduate "Man in Search of Meaning."

award His case is similar to that of so many other heroes who have defeated the most adverse circumstances, without betraying themselves, as has the new Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, sentenced to 11 years in prison for demanding democracy in China, a country where all human and labor rights are violated. Every year some 3,000 people die in its coal mines, for example, due to precarious safety conditions. And it is possible that many of these workers wait in the darkness for rescue teams for days and even weeks, but no one seems to make much effort to save them or to prevent this tragedy subject from happening again.

The odyssey of the Chilean miners has fortunately had a very different ending. As is well known, they endured 70 days at a depth of 700 meters. During the first two weeks of confinement they survived by eating a spoonful of canned tuna and a cookie every 48 hours. When they were located and the Chilean government estimated that their rescue would take between three and four months, some sites in rich Europe published reports with headlines similar to the one in this column, in which experts from the most varied fields gave their health and dietary advice. "They should hydrate themselves well.... They should exercise and walk through the galleries of the site so as not to put on weight.... They have to increase their protein and vitamin intake.... They should evacuate the garbage to avoid contamination.... And they should practice yoga to stay mentally fit. The bias of these recommendations was clearly materialistic and reductionist: to survive, the miners only had to follow the advice of a trainer or a nutritionist.

It was enough to see the rescue of the first ones who left the Fenix capsule this Wednesday, at five o'clock in the morning, Spanish time, to see what it really takes to endure 70 days in a grave located under tons of earth and rock, with temperatures of 30 Degrees and a humidity of 90 percent. It was enough to see Florencio Ávalos embracing his little son between sobs, starring in one of the most moving moments that television has offered us in recent times, to confirm that what is required to overcome confinement, humiliations, dungeons, exile and torture, is not only the food and the abdominal cramps, but also the food and the food for the dead, are not only food and abs, but love and faith, the certainty that our spirit will transcend the passage of time and become immortal in the memory of those who love us and are waiting for us on the other side of the fence, at the exit of the tunnel, in the dry mouth of the mine in the desert.

"Man's salvation is in love and through love," wrote Frankl in 1945. Have those Chilean miners read it? Probably not, and it hardly matters. They had in their heads the same image that the Austrian psychiatrist kept in his heart: that of a woman waiting impatiently on the surface, of a child praying for his return, of a man who defeats adversity and believes in the meaning of transcendence.