Sunday, April 11, 2010

Coal Mining

Twenty-nine people died last week in the nation's worst coal mining disaster in decades. The tragedy is compounded by the knowledge of how dangerous and utterly miserable a miner's life is.

I'm lucky. I was born into the part of my family that didn't work in the mines.

One branch of my father's side of the family lived in a small town in central Pennsylvania, and worked in the mines. We'd visit once a year, which was all it took for me to learn two important lessons:

1. These were good, salt of the earth people doing a hard, nasty job.

2. I could never be a miner.

The town was filled with people who invariably looked far older than their years. A man of thirty who worked the mines might well look to be a hard sixty. Respiratory diseases were almost obligatory, the result of breathing coal dust every working day. The dreaded "black lung disease," (coal workers' pneumoconiosis) was normal. Beneath the layers of grime that could never quite all be washed away were bodies kept pale by years of backbreaking labor miles away from the sun.

Coal mines are dark, dirty, claustrophobic, and utterly miserable places. My uncle Joe took us about a hundred yards into a mine tunnel one day, and I couldn't wait to get out. I can't imagine doing that job every day, year after year.

According to the news broadcasts, the owner of the mine has a history of ignoring safety violations, or of doing the absolute minimum necessary to avoid prosecution for them. If this is true, there is no condemnation or punishment great enough. The miner's life is hard and dangerous enough. Deliberately making it more so is contemptible.

Pray for the lost souls in the mine, and for those who will surely be lost in the future. Your way of life depends in large part on the sacrifices they make doing a deadly and miserable job.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

4 comments:

The Mistress of the Dark said...

My father worked in the mines when my parents were first married. My mom said she was never so glad when he got out of it. I hope Massey Energy gets more than just a slap on the wrist for destroying the lives of those families.

John said...

Mining is one of the many jobs that I am glad that I don't have to do. I am blessed to have the gig that I have and will be eligible to retire from in just 1 year, 8 months, 25 days.

fiona said...

My family also avoided mining (all farm/mill folk ) There were a lot of mines in Fife though and I cant even begin to imagine working in those conditions. Massey deserves to be taken down.

Mike said...

No comment on corporate greed.