Dear Dr. Haldane:
You don’t know me, but I am writing this as a letter of thanks. It is a difficult letter for me to write for reasons that will become apparent, but it is a necessary letter. It is because of you that I am still alive. Granted, it is because of you that I died again and again, but I’m still alive, and that’s what matters in the end. Certainly no one could accuse you of depraved indifference --although not everyone who was inspired by your idea took similar inspiration from your thoughtfulness. They might be depraved and indifferent, Dr. Haldane, but not you.
I can understand why, after the Tylorstown Colliery disaster, you turned to us for help. No one wants a world that obliterates fresh-faced young boys, newly down in the mines in search of work. No one wants a world where tar-stained old men survive years of service, only to be killed days before retirement. I enjoy the company of these boys, these men I work with down there. It’s a shame about the circumstances, but not one of them has ever treated me badly --not a one. I think they are happy for my company, too.
We sing to each other, you know? We do. We warble to each other down there. You could join us, but I guess you have more important things to do above ground, like everybody else. I sing in rising-toned wheeps, and the men whistle back. Their noises sound like a poor imitation of wren song (tweet- tweet- tweet- tweet- tweet- tweet- tweet). People are funny!
On days when work is good, it’s almost celebratory --as celebratory as a mineshaft gaping like a cat’s maw can be -- with all of the singing.
On days when work is bad, the singing stops. Everything is silent then, if the miners are lucky.
And here is where I must thank you: if everything is silent then, I’m lucky, too. Not everyone is as lucky as I am.
When the danger comes, the men wear heavy, protective gear that makes them look as though they are carved from the coal. It is my understanding you invented their respirators? In some pits, or so I have heard, the only defense available to keep us in the here-and-now is a grid of mesh and our feathers. This is no defense at all. Many of us have perished in this way --we drink up the silent poison and die while men watch our demise through their jet black helmets. Do the men feel any regret? It’s hard to say, because that’s how they avoid the inevitable explosions that are coming. We have to die so that they may live.
But this is not the fate of us all. This is not my fate, thanks to you, Dr. Haldane. You thought of a kinder way.
Your contraption has saved my life, more than once.
Imagine the life being choked out of you. Imagine a sleep so pernicious you know you have to fight it, but you can’t. I have experienced this three times in my short life. I have died and been resuscitated three times, thanks to you. My cage is substantial, no fatal grid of flimsy mesh. Glass-walled with a shiny brass grill to prevent me from escaping, it is designed to keep me alive.
I don’t know which of the men carried me to my deaths. Maybe it was a different one each time, maybe it was the same one --I don’t know. Their protective gear makes them inscrutable. My mind was on other things. I also have protective gear, but mine allows me to die, and my mind was on that. I don’t mean to sound as if I am complaining. It could have been worse.
Each time I died, whoever it was swung my solid door shut. Whoever it was turned the valve on the oxygen tank hovering over my head like a zeppelin --I imagine that is tricky to do with those sizeable gloves and the fear that comes with knowing I’m dead. Whoever it was carried me away to safety before the mine blew, and carried himself away, too.
We all survived, thanks to you, Dr. Haldane.
We all survived, and the vein had a chance to exhale.
We all survived, and the coal supply was barely disrupted. We all went back down as soon as it was deemed safe. True, I had died, but I was alive. We were all alive, and that meant we could go back to work. We were sent back to work because we were alive. My work is not so difficult --not like the work of the boys and the men with soot weeping from their sweat glands. All I have to do is whistle in the dark.
I’m still alive. We’re all still alive.
And it’s all thanks to you.