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International news at the end of June, into July, was dominated by a 17-day saga that took place in the northern part of Thailand. Twelve young soccer players, aged 11 to 17 and led by their 25-year-old coach, had explored a cave system only to be trapped by the rising waters of monsoon season.

In the two weeks before they were found alive deep within the mountain, divers and rescue experts from around the world converged on Thailand. We watched as divers explored the caves, found and tended to the boys and their coach, planned and executed a rescue, and even sacrificed a life. In the background of the rescue team’s remarkable heroism was a less-told story: that of the local volunteers.

In exploring news coverage, I encountered a short video on the BBC, comprised simply of conversations with a variety of people: the owner of a laundry and her team who, realizing the emergency workers had been wearing the same dirty uniforms for days, picked up their clothes at 9 PM each night to wash and return them by 4 AM the next morning; a man who shuttled people back and forth to the cave on his scooter; a Muslim woman who cooked halal meals for all the Muslims in the operation.

It’s always beautiful to see people pull together for a good cause, but one quote hit me like a two-by-four. A young man, who volunteered to help at the laundry and was folding the US Navy divers’ uniforms, spoke with energy: “I don’t have the ability to get the kids out directly, but what I can do is wash these clothes.” In those words were the force of a whole community’s heroic mission, and an innate understanding of St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s Little Way. The Little Flower challenges us to “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”

Not all of us are called to great, obvious gestures of heroism or sanctity, like the Thai diver who died ferrying supplies to the trapped boys, or St. Thérèse herself. But all of us are called to be aware of the bigger picture, to remember that even the smallest actions, when done for the right reasons at the right time, have an impact on the grand scheme of things: our salvation and that of those around us.

Who knows whether a rescue worker got a vital boost of confidence and morale from that clean, fresh uniform, or even the fact that someone cared enough to wash it for him? Did a volunteer from across the world, showing up just to see if there was something she could do, make it to the cave in time to play a vital role because of that scooter driver? Was a diver given essential strength by those home-cooked meals?


We can theorize the possibilities of each of these threads woven into the tapestry that was the Thai cave rescue. But as Catholics, we can look beyond the physical effects of the little threads we weave, to the supernatural tapestry of God’s salvation history. Maybe the fact that you washed your family’s laundry tonight will help them be a little more cheerful tomorrow, maybe not; but certainly, because you washed for love of your family, God gave value to the washing and you grew closer to Him. I don’t have the ability to fix the world’s problems, but I can do my daily tasks.

Copyright 2018 Rebecca Willen
Image: Pixabay (2015)