Blessed Be the Thais That Bind
Why do we care about a soccer team of adolescents from a remote village in from Thailand? Not that I’ve heard anyone admit indifference about the twelve boys and their assistant coach, recently trapped for over two weeks in a cave blocked by floodwaters.
Round-the-clock global attention was focused on their plight and the daring rescue operation. Social media lit up with constant updates, prayers, vigils, and crowdfunding (no doubt those hardy kids have brand new uniforms). I was traveling at the time, and every person I met in far-flung coffee shops, gas stations, and restaurants expressed earnest concern about the boys in Thailand.
If you typed “soccer team” into Google, the search engine auto-completed with “rescue” and pulled up multiple stories. Not a word about the World Cup. Millions of people were more engaged in following the scrappy kids from Thailand than in the world’s foremost sporting event.
This saga harked back to the “Baby Jessica” episode. In October 1987, as 18-month-old Jessica McClure toddled around her grandmother’s backyard in Texas, she fell 22 feet into an eight-inch diameter well casing. The 45 hours Jessica was stuck underground before her rescue is credited with launching cable news into the information-overload industry it is today. The coverage was staggering as we held our collective breath to focus on a small patch of ground in West Texas.
I asked my wife Elle, a former TV producer and news anchor, why the Thai soccer team story created such a visceral world-wide response. After all, there’s a bounty of dramatic events occurring around the planet every hour of every day, but for the most part we give them a cursory glance before the next shiny object in the news-feed captures our gaze.
She said, “It’s a combination of four things: drama, uniqueness, empathy, and unity. The soccer kids story had everything. It was a race against time, it was unusual and perilous, and we all felt helpless to do anything. We imagined ourselves as parents or neighbors of those children. And, the event had nothing to do with politics or nationality or race or gender. There was nothing for people to feel divided over. We simply wanted those kids to be safe.”
I’m married to a wise woman. She confirmed a long-held notion of mine: the things that unite us are stronger than what divides us. Folks from every corner of the globe, of every race, religion, tribe, nation, and political stripe, pulled in the same direction. We wanted those young soccer players rescued simply because they are humans.
It’s a lesson we should heed. So much can blind us to seeing each other as fully human: religion, nationality, race, politics, gender, age, sexual orientation, economic status, physical ability.
Whenever we peer through those distinctions we recognize our common humanity. We understand we are interconnected through our basic needs, hopes and dreams. We realize our interdependence as we offer our resources to a mutual cause. We’re awakened to the truth of being knit together in a common destiny, and compelled to ensure the peace, wellbeing, inherent value, justice, and freedom of all.
In my book, and as my faith tells me, that’s the essence of loving your neighbor.