Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Fleeting Moment

Not sure exactly, since I failed to look, how long it had been since I wrote my last log entry. I know that I wrote about there being fewer days ahead than they are behind. I referred this entry to myself and no one else. Little did I know what the future had in store.

This past Monday, June 27, 2011, as I awoke to get ready for work. There appeared to be a voice message waiting. The mine where I worked had called and left me a message telling me that work for that day had been canceled.

I am accustomed to our mine having machinery problems which will cause it to temporarily close down from time to time so I never really paid much attention to it. Equipment problems or perhaps closed down due to an inspection violation and went back to bed.

Monday was going to be like any other Monday. I would head to mine foreman class as I had for the past couple months and spend the evening at home. The company paying for the day.

When I got to class, I met another co-worker/classmate who happened to be the electrician for another section of the mine I work at. I ask why our job had canceled work and his reply was rather matter-of-fact.

He said that he heard someone had been killed at our mine on the midnight shift. Rather hard to believe but he was adamant about his source. I placed a few calls and so did he and we soon found some sort of evidence that someone we worked with had indeed either been killed or badly injured.

With-in an hour, we both had confirmation. A co-worker had indeed lost his life that night.

I think that, during that day in class, reality slowly sank in. It was hard to believe that someone we saw every day or talked to, passed some sort of joke with, no longer lived.

I have spent almost 24 years underground as a coal miner. I have seen many different things in that span of time and witnessed many different accidents, both minor and life changing. But I have never worked at any mine where anyone lost their life.

I rode my motorcycle to the mine entrance and spoke with a guard. Trying my best to find out as much information as I could about the accident. I knew who it was that lost their life, knew how and what time it happened.

The next day we were allowed back into the mine. A handful of us of course, which I was one of those called to work. We had work to do at the area of the mine where the accident happened. One of the foremen there ask if I had seen the place where the young man was killed. He took me to this one area and what I saw actually amazed me.

The wall or rib of the mine had fell, striking the man as he had his back turned to it. I had read a report from news stations about the size of the "rock" that had hit him and expected something massive.

What I saw was possibly 6 to 7 feet in length and not nearly as large as I had anticipated. The first thought that came to my mind was, "how could that have killed a man?"

To be busted up, crushed, badly injured..yes! But to take the life of someone? It just didnt seem possible.

I will not go into details of what else I had seen. Some things are best left unspoken. It was a quiet time that week at work. So many young miners never before witnessed to accidents were badly shaken. So many young apprentice miners who worked side by side with the victim, may possibly never recover from what they witnessed nor the aftereffects. Images will no doubt haunt them for the rest of their lives.

I went to the wake service for the young man, his accomplishments thus far in life very impressive to say the least. He was a very loved and respected man and will surely be missed. I attended for two reasons. 1. He was a lost co-worker and paying respects was an honor. Both knowing him and remembering everything he stood for and, 2. He was a coal miner first and foremost.

We are a rare breed here in the coal industry. A breed of people I am proud of being part of. We do things on a daily basis that very few have the courage or stupidity to do. We rob mountains of their coal, never paying much attention or at least acknowledgement of the mountains potential to retaliate. She will turn of you when you least expect it and God have mercy on you if you turn your back on her.

Beside this young mans casket, placed on a small stand, was his hardhat and cap light. His utility belt tucked underneath, the light shining upwards into the distance. As I sat in one of the church pews, I noticed many co-workers and many I did not know, pass by, placing their hand on his hard hat. They were coal miners, had to be. And that is our way of saying goodbye.

Regardless of who we are or where in this world we happen to be, coal ties us together. We are family, brothers and sisters of a rare family. Coal binds us, beckons to us, calls us and yes, rules us.

I stepped out of it for eleven years. Last year I came back to it. Resistance was futile. Countless dreams over the years let me know that I would indeed, be going back to the mountains dark, damp realm.

Fewer days ahead than behind! I know this each day I venture underground. Each day I look towards the sky and say to myself.."I'll see you later." Hoping the shift will be a safe one and I can safely return home.

But what is that had been me? What if, after eleven years apart, this time I will not be so lucky? What if I am the next one, the mountain taking me after all I have helped do to her? Remorse or regret for a job I have known since 1980? No. It is simply something I know can happen but work hard to avoid it. Always conscience of mother mountain, never taking my eye off her for even a small moment. Never turning my back to her. Never flirting with her, angering her.

My family will not understand. Doubtful they could. I am a coal miner. And I know the dangers I face each day and am thankful to God for each day I am able to drive home.

Our friend and co-worker will be missed. This I am sure of. Missed dearly.

My hand placed upon yet another hard hat.......

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Fewer Days Ahead than Behind....

One of my favorite rock groups, "Chicago" sang a song, "I've been searching". The lyrics go something like this:

As my life goes on I believe, Somehow something's changed. Something deep inside, Ooh a part of me.

There's a strange new light in my eyes, things I've never known. Changin' my life,Changin' me.
I've been searchin' so long, to find an answer. Now I see myself as I am feeling very free.

Life is everything, Ooh it's meant to be. When my tears have come to an end, I will understand what I left behind, part of me.

One year ago, this July, I returned to the work force after eleven years of retirement. Somehow, my little mixed up brain has always thought I was still in my 20's or 30's. Little did it realize how incredibly wrong it was. Little did it understand that there are fewer days ahead than they are behind.

No more did I have elders to look up to and listen to at work. Now, I was the elder, the old man, grandpa, old one and a host of other ancient names. Slowly, I began to realize just how old I have become.

Like the song implies, somehow somethings changed. And I imagine that it has been me all along. Still the messed up person I have always been, but just older. Still feel that my life is missing so much, but yet unable to determine what it is I have been missing. "Searching, to find an answer", but unable to find it, possibly because I do not know the question.

Searching for something, seeking for a hint or a glimpse or glimmer of an answer, now realizing I may never find it and yet leaving such a large part of myself behind. I have longed for so much, sought after fairy tales and hoped for things that only existed in books and the dreams of children, now reality sets in, and there is no answer to be found. I will never know since there are fewer days ahead than they are behind.

I love the spring, the world is coming back to life and gives new hope. Fall has beautiful colors but it reminds me that soon, those gorgeous leaves will drop to the ground and all will be bare, lifeless and dead.

I am now at the age, or rather in a seasonal overtone, entering into the "fall season" of my life. Not knowing the days, months or years it will take before the cold harsh winter sets in and life will be over. Fewer days ahead than there are behind.

What my heart once longed for, it no longer seeks. What my soul once desired and craved, it has become complacent and decided no more will it entertain such childish desires. Emotions once wishing to be released have now been locked safely behind mental closet doors. No more will they be set free again. Fewer days ahead than they are behind.

So I shall try to be satisfied with what and who I am and where my life has taken me so far. Do my best to settle that things will change only if it is destined. Be happy with today for there may be no tomorrow.

Yesterday,, at age 48, I purchased a motorcycle. Yea I know, many guys my age and older are buying these things. I look at it is my final days of middle age crazy. Doing what I had always wanted to do but never could do it. Fewer days ahead than there are behind.

Here's to tomorrow.......