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Humans united in service

Sunday, July 15, 2018

With my father, there is no family gathering when we shoot the breeze. Every moment bubbles over.

An army man to the core, who fought in three wars, an engineer who has both dodged landmines and laid them down, an avid reader of military history and philosophy, an author of eight books, a zumba and bridge addict, who annually climbs higher mountains (literally), his mind operates on a vast canvas.

He expects us to keep up. So when we gathered on a long table last week to celebrate my son’s birthday my father said that it’s too bad, the month of July already belonged to Caesar. My son would have to surpass Caesar to make his mark on the world.

And if we didn’t know that July is named Julius Caesar, Roman general, statesman, dictator, and historian who conquered half of Europe and ruled an Empire, then too bad. We were slackers not keeping up with the wide reading he has taught us is indispensable to this life. Underlying his thirst for knowledge rigorously passed to his children is the philosophy that humans are on this earth to help others. If we don’t, we are parasites.

It’s not good enough for his children and grandchildren to do well for themselves but what they do for the world. We are always falling short. But he had cut out our path clearly.

After the cake was cut, my father raised his glass saying, “Bertrand Russell, he believed borders based on race, religion, country, governments are all infantile. Thailand showed us that.”

My father was speaking of the international Tham Luang cave rescue effort that transfixed the world this month and brought us much needed benediction in this parched season where worldwide, inhumanity personified in the closed, racist, aggressive faces of leaders such as Theresa May, closing borders with Brexit while attempting to expel the Windrush generation of West Indians domiciled in the UK; of Trump who humiliates refugees without recognising his US’s role in creating them, and feeds the flames of bigotry and racism; of Kim Jong-un and other leaders who violate human rights.

It was as if the people of this world battered by inhumane leaders spontaneously demonstrated that we are made not of politics and barriers but of hearts. This example made us all want to be our best selves.

From the instant 12 boys aged 11-17, members of a Thai football team led by a 25-year-old coach were trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non, a cave in Thailand’s Chiang Rai Province on June 23 by flooding from rain, forcing them deeper into the cave, the world sprung into action.

It was as if all of human courage gathered together in that subterranean world with 1,000 people taking part in the rescue operation.

Some 90 international divers, medics, engineers and military personnel worldwide, from Australia, the US, Europe, and Beijing joined 40 Thai divers in the perilous mission that involved diving in arduous conditions in fast-flowing waters, through four kilometres of jagged, dangerously narrow tunnels.

British divers, Richard Stanton and John Volanthen found the boys, and reassured them.

Saman Kunan, a 38-year-old former Thai SEAL, asphyxiated on July 5 while attempting to pass through a narrow passageway on his return to the cave entrance after delivering supplies of air to the interior.

Australian doctor anaesthetist and diving expert Dr Richard Harris abandoned his holiday, risked his own life, and dove into the cavern to look after the boys, monitoring their health, only emerging when all of them were out safely.

Hundreds more were outside the cave, nurses, farmers, parents caring for, cooking for the rescuers, the people who readily agreed to allow the some of the 35 million gallons of pumped out water to flood their village.

The young boys remained calm for 17 days in their damp cavern, nine without food, as their coach, 25-year-old Ekapol Chanthawong, apologised profusely and led them through guided meditation.

“In a hundred years from now, this event of heroism, sacrifice, patience, endurance, will show your grandchildren that humans are capable of being united in service,” my father said to my son, and raised his glass. No child anywhere could ask for a finer gift.


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