The Tham Luang cave rescue in Chiang Rai, Thailand (July 2018) captured people’s hearts throughout the world. Twelve boys and their assistant soccer coach became trapped in a cave they had intended to explore for only an hour or two. Unexpected flash floods pushed them deeper into the cave with no food and only a few flashlights. For more than a week the boys were trapped, alone, 2 km deep beneath the surface, and 4 km from the cave’s entrance while the world was left wondering if they were still alive. Torrential downpours made the early search nearly impossible as strong underground currents and zero visibility sidelined the cave divers. On the 10th day the boys and their coach were found and the world exhaled in pure astonishment. While the world celebrated, however, the rescue team faced a grim reality – how on earth were they going to get the boys and their coach out alive?
Current events are powerful metaphors that offer opportunities for us to reflect on our own lives. Who hasn’t led their inner child (unknowingly) into a dark cave separated from the light of the world? Who doesn’t have an innocent inner child who needs rescuing from cavernous depths and deserves the love, compassion, and understanding of the world?
The fact that the inner child is innocent does not make a villain out of the coach who unknowingly led the child into the dead-end. I believe the coach is just as innocent as the child, for if he had known where the journey truly led, he would never have embarked on it in the first place. And on another level, one could argue there was a greater purpose for the entire experience – all children and their coach made it out alive, and the world learned more, came together, and drew inspiration because of it. Was it then a mistake for the coach to have embarked on the journey, all things considered? How could anyone possibly know this for sure?
Who hasn’t coached their inner child into a dark cave without an exit? In this world saturated with “should”, “have to”, “need to”, and black and white thinking, it’s easy to lead yourself into a cave of “I’m not good enough”, “I need their agreement, approval, and appreciation”, and “it’s not ok to be who I really am.” In truth, all of the above are innocent misunderstandings. And the inner child deserves to know this truth, to see the light of the day – to be rescued.
Another possible reason why this story touched so many may be because there was no antagonist. In a news cycle that is centered upon black and white thinking, of us vs. them mentality – this story had no bad guy. The world literally came together. From various countries to families, cooks and rice farmers, military and civilian experts. There was nobody to fight against – only a wonderful group of boys and a coach to bring home to safety.
It was determined that the only exit out of the cave was the terrifying way the boys came in – through 4 km of small winding passages, now filled with muddy water and fed by strong currents. It was first reported that the boys and their coach would have to do the impossible, and swim their way out of the tunnel without any prior diving experience. Does anyone have a deeper fear than cave diving through narrow passages with zero visibility? These boys needed help to lead them to safety. But what if the rescuers, themselves, were afraid?
What if monsoon rains suddenly intensified and made the rescue impossible? How were the boys going to stay composed during the dive? How could beginner swimmers do this without any diving experience? Were the boys strong enough to make it through the journey after 2 weeks suffering from malnutrition? The list of uncertainties was long, and the fears were real. Even the experts were pessimistic – giving the mission a 60% chance of success, or only 8 of the boys making it out alive.
But with heavy rains in the forecast – the rescue had to go on.
The rescue was, by all measures, nothing short of a miracle. Over the next four days, all 12 boys and their soccer coach were taken safely out of the cave. Every single one made it out. For all the logistical challenges and fears of how the boys would be able to swim themselves out, we know now that the boys did not need to do a thing. The boys were sedated and packaged in a way that they could simply trust the process, and know they were being taken care of.
The boys may not have known that thousands of people were at the site helping them get out of the cave. There were expert divers, water pump engineers, cooks, and famous billionaires. The boys had all the help they needed; they were going to make it out, and only needed to trust the process. Every single boy, from the strongest to the weakest, from the most courageous to the most afraid – every single one got out alive.
Of the thousands of heroes who contributed to the effort, there was one that gave more than the rest. Samal Kunan, a retired Thai Navy Seal who came out of retirement to help the boys, passed away while delivering oxygen tanks along the cave passageways. He ran out of his own oxygen while delivering oxygen for others. His passing is a reminder of the length we are willing to go for the freedom of the inner child. However, it may also serve as a reminder for all of us to be careful and secure our own face mask (sort-to-speak) before assisting others.
When a situation in your life appears difficult or even grim, remember that the initial fear of the boys having perished in the cave was met by the reality of them being found on the 10th day. The fear of unrelenting monsoon rains impacting the rescue mission was met by the reality of a 4-day cease in rain in which the rescue could move ahead. The fear of the children needing to swim themselves out was met by the reality of them being sedated and pulled out on each one’s behalf. The fear that the weakest boys would not be strong enough for the journey was met by the reality of all of them getting out alive.
For those of us that feel as though we have an inner child in a cave, trust that we too have all the support in the world (and beyond), and that everyone’s ‘rescue’ is being undertaken at this very moment. If it feels as though you do not have the support, remember that it is natural to feel this way in a cave – but I remind you to reach out to experienced ‘divers’, ‘water pump engineers’, and the like, and to trust there are countless numbers working on your behalf, just beyond the veil.