Tuesday, November 16, 2010


I wonder how Edison Pena, one of the rescued Chilean miners, who ran in the New York City Marathon, is feeling today? Is he still exhilarated, making plans for other adventures while he's still in America?
Pena is not a champion or an athlete. He's a 34-year-old miner who survived a near death experience.

I know, from personal experience, that the 33 miners who were trapped for 70 days in the mine have a new perspective -- a power they didn't have before the mine collapsed. Aside from becoming celebrities, which is a life-changing experience, there's a change in your spirit when you almost die.

I don't mean a scare, the kind that happens when you're driving and something unexpected happens: "Oh my God, I could have crashed into that car." When you are "dead," or almost die, but don't die, there's a new awareness, a loud, very strong sense that this is your life.

It happened to me. After I'd recovered from an major accident, suddenly one day I was convulsed with pain, and landed in an operating room. During the surgery my heart failed. I watched the Doctors trying to revive me with electric paddles. I knew I was dying.

I didn't see light at the end of the tunnel. But I heard someone say my heart had stopped beating for five-and-a-half minutes. A doctor said I might be bedridden, there might be brain damage.

I am not bedridden. While I was recovering, I decided I'd like to dance at Lincoln Center. It took a lot of doing, and hours and hours of rehabilitation exercises. It seemed like a fantasy, but it kept me going, over the years.

The 33 trapped Chilean miners are out of the mine, and back with their loved ones in the sunlight and fresh air. It's as if they've been reborn. I'm sure that each man, in his own way, feels as if he can do whatever he wants to do.

Edison Pena told The Late Show's David Letterman that before the mine collapsed, he'd never run more than ten miles. During the first endless days in the tunnel, he huddled in a corner, couldn't do anything -- he was sure he was going to die.

Then he started running in the pitch dark corridors of the mine, three to six miles a day with a flashlight in hand. "I ran to forget I was trapped." And though it seemed like a fantasy, a financially impossible, impractical dream, he thought about visiting Graceland and New York City.

Yes, he's undoubtedly still exhilarated, making plans for what he'll do when he's back home in Chile. He'll probably take on work, a craft, a job that he dreamed of doing when he was kid.

Yes he will, and I danced Mahler's Fifth, a seventy-minute marathon of a symphony, at Alice Tully Hall, at Lincoln Center.
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