There is a small snatch of words in Douglas Livingstone’s excellent poem Gentling a Wildcat, which neatly encapsulates the untrammelled inclination of human beings to do what they are specifically directed not to do, to go where they are not meant to be — to actively seek the wonder of the world: “I ventured with no trepidations and a torch, towed by the faculty/ I cannot understand, that has got me/ into too many situations.”
The poem describes an encounter between a man and an injured wildcat in the dark of the night. It is an encounter that ought never to have happened, if only he’d been sufficiently cowed by his host listing the wildcats and jackals roaming the property.
It is exactly that ability to get into “a situation” with which so many of us can identify. And when we are shorn of it, it is just that — the inclination to court danger — that gives us the language to describe our being on this Earth. It is another of the things that makes us human.
So when a group of very young footballers entered a cave in Thailand last month, armed with just 700 baht (R282.50) worth of sweets and cold drinks, they said they had intended to inscribe their names on the wall of the cave — a tradition for many of the children who live in the region.
They rode their bikes to the cave to celebrate the 16th birthday of one of the team members. They ignored signs warning people not to enter the caves. The area is prone to flooding, especially in the monsoon season. That would not deter them. And ultimately, their story would captivate the world.
This week, all 12 boys, aged 11 to 16, from the Wild Boar football team in northern Thailand, and their 25-year-old coach were rescued from the Tham Luang cave after being trapped there for more than 17 days. Theirs is a rare story of hope. But it is also a remarkable story of resilience and human co-operation. In all, more than 100 people were involved in the rescue operation (let us not count Elon Musk among them).
And, in the midst of celebrating, we must remember too that one person died while delivering oxygen for the boys.
“His job was to deliver oxygen. He did not have enough on his way back,” the region’s deputy governor said.
That familiar confluence of triumph and tragedy is what builds our ability to understand and share the feelings of each other. It is what keeps us human.