“It’s a miracle,” said Loretta Ables, who said her fiancé, Fred Ware, was among the survivors. “Everyone was telling us they were probably dead.”  Sadly, they were.  After a night that saw elation turn to sorrow, we now know that only one miner survived the horrible accident in the West Virginia coal mine.  [See The New York Times part one and part two.]

News that 12 of the 13 trapped West Virginia coal miners had been rescued reverberated around the nation Wednesday morning. The rejoicing was mixed with the grief and sorrow experienced by those who knew and loved the miner whose body was found earlier on Tuesday. Nevertheless, the fact that 12 had been rescued was big news — and a big surprise after deadly levels of carbon monoxide were detected in the damaged area of the mine.   Sadly, it now appears that the report of 12 survivors was wrong . . . horribly wrong.

This tragedy — and the relief experienced in this rescue — should remind those of us who work in relative safety that our lifestyles depend upon millions of workers in coal mines, steel mills, and other places who face very real and present dangers.

Those of us described by the late Peter Drucker as “knowledge workers” and by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich as “symbolic analysts” should take this opportunity to pay humble respect to those who, for example, dig coal deep in the earth in order that we might have heat and electricity.

When the whistle blows each morning, And I walk down in that cold, dark mine; I say a prayer to my dear Savior, Please let me see the sunshine one more time.

When oh when will it be over, When will I lay these burdens down? And when I die, dear Lord in heaven, Please take my soul from ‘neath that cold dark ground.

I still grieve for my poor brother, And I still hear my dear old mother cry; When late that night they came and told her, He’d lost his life down in the Big Shoal Mine.

When oh when will it be over, When will I lay these burdens down? And when I die, dear Lord in heaven, Please take my soul from ‘neath that cold dark ground.

I have no shame, I feel no sorrow, If on this earth not much I own; I have the love of my sweet children, An old plow mule, a shovel and a hoe.

When oh when will it be over, When will I lay these burdens down? And when I die, dear Lord in heaven, Please take my soul from ‘neath that cold dark ground.

Yeah, when I die, dear Lord in heaven, Please take my soul from ‘neath that cold dark ground.

DwightYoakam, Miner’s Prayer, 1990.