An ambulance seen near the Tham Luang cave complex, where members of a soccer team trapped are in a flooded cave, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 9 2018. Picture: REUTERS/ SOE ZEYA TUN
An ambulance seen near the Tham Luang cave complex, where members of a soccer team trapped are in a flooded cave, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 9 2018. Picture: REUTERS/ SOE ZEYA TUN

We, the human race, have an enormous capacity for compassion and empathy given the right circumstances.

It’s a beautiful thing to watch us in action, united as we come together over a tragic event, willing a happy outcome.

We watched tremulously, and with not a little awe, as Operation Rescue 12 young Thai soccer players and their former monk coach kicked into action. They’d been trapped in a flooded cave and we watched for 18 long days, attempts to save them from what could so easily have been a watery grave.

With the advent of real time broadcasting, world disasters and moments of huge joy (like royal weddings or Croatia beating the English team at the Soccer World Cup) are now enacted in our living rooms, giving us the ability to feel the happiness and fear and pain of the world: communally.

I flew out of New York the night before 911, landing at what was then still Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg as the first plane was being flown into the World Trade Centre.

My parish priest from a midtown Catholic Church was killed when a desperate jumper leapt from a very high floor on the collapsing building and fell onto him.

A friend’s fire-fighter husband was killed. Another friend who worked in the financial district as an investment banker walked out of lower Manhattan to his home on the upper east side covered in dust and his, and other people’s blood. Shattered glass did a lot of damage on human flesh.

It was the start of a global period of horror, grief and mourning as the shock of the carnage and destruction hit all right minded people. The world came together in unison – in its outraged condemnation, in sympathy and in sadness. And in a lot of fear. Our communal right to safety had been taken away, our worlds rocked by the possibility of unspeakable violence.

Wreaths of flowers were laid in cities across the world to mark the significance of impact the atrocity had on us all. The terror attack had struck at the very heart of our humanity and we were all aghast at the ferocity of the barbarous act in peace time. Well, most of us were.

New York is a city that is a country all on its own – a city that has no nationality, that is truly made up of citizens of the world. We all claim New York, Residents will tell you that born and bred New Yorkers are a rare breed.

Three years later, on Boxing Day in 2004, a tsunami hit Thailand, killing more than 230 000 people – many of them international holiday makers enjoying the sun and the sea.

Again, the world reacted as one. It was a tragedy that affected us right here at home. We mourned the death of those South Africans who’d lost their lives in that horrific natural disaster.

Princess Diana’s death in a car crash in Paris changed the monarchy, and the world in the way we accepted stolen pictures of famous people, royals and movie stars. The paparazzi changed how they took pictures, the tabloid newspapers developed a conscience about what they would allow their photographers do to get THE picture There were world wide consequences.

And so, when news of the trapped Thai boys broke, it was another of those those international “breath holding” moments. That flooded Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand moved into my, and everyone I know’s lounge.

We celebrated the fact that the boys were found at all. The chance of the British divers who discovered them actually finding them was pure chance.

We mourned as a Thai Navy Seal diver lost his life during the rescue attempt. We marvelled at the constantly changing plans, complicated plans.

And then they were out. #Hoolay and #Hooyah trended in that east Asian country as the boys emerged into the light.. The world heaved a huge sigh of relief.

We shook hands with each other and wept and said a silent prayer of thanks. Elon Musk dropped off a submarine, just in case anything like this ever happened in the region again. It had been a very big deal and we, most of us, bought into the human drama of it.

It was found that the boys had lost a maximum of 2kg – remarkable after that period of abstinence in a dark cave.

They sat in their hospital beds, behind masks, throwing peace signs.

I know the sceptics will shoot me down, but I firmly believe that this happy ending is due, in very large part, to meditation and mindfulness.

When the British divers found the boys, they told CNN that they were sitting calmly, waiting.

It makes sense when you learn that their coach, Ekapol Chanthawong – who took them hiking into the cave when it flooded on June 23 – is a Buddhist monk trained in the art of meditation.

He taught the boys, between 11 and 16, to meditate in that cave, helping them keep calm and preserve their energy.

And so I am astounded by the attack from Christians who believe (very vocally) that meditaion and the practice of higher forms of consciousness are a sin against God.

One Christian view that emerged in an American Christian magazine denounced Eastern religions who teach that looking within, finding a core of peace and serenity deep inside oneself is an active way of excluding God and higher forms of consciousness.

Therefore, we should look outside of ourselves to find salvation, not inward, into our very souls.

Everyone is allowed their opinion. But, to disregard the astonishing feat that former monk, Coach Ake pulled off – keeping a dozen young men from panicking in a situation that deserves panic – would be a travesty.

I applaud his gargantuan effort and his astonishing success. The fact that he could now face the wrath of the law for unthinkingly endangering the lives of his team by taking them into the cave in the first place is… well… for another column.

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