I remember the saga of Baby Jessica, the child who fell into a well in her aunt’s yard in Midland, Texas in the late 1980s. It seemed like every person in the U.S. and perhaps around the world held our collective breaths as the searchers worked for more than two days to find and free her. And when she was brought out, the world heave a sigh of relief. It was a beautiful story. But, I think, the story quickly fled from our collective conscience and we moved on to other things. Many of the people involved in the incident, though, were not so fortunate to let the trauma simply fade away. More on that in a moment, but first I’d like to consider a much more recent incident of a child who fell into a well.
Unlike the story of Baby Jessica, the media’s coverage of the story of Julen Rosello, who fell into a borehole in Totalán, Spain (which I believe is several miles outside Malaga) was not so extensive. The child’s plight did not capture the headlines in the same way Jessica McClure grabbed the world’s attention. There were stories about Julen, but they were occasional and updates lacked the frenetic pace that Jessica’s story did. Why? Who knows? Maybe it was because we’ve become more accustomed to tragedy. Perhaps the constant flood of “news” has made us immune to the horror such a story generates. Or it might be because the child’s predicament was foreign to us. He was, after all, a Spanish child, not an American, so the world might not value his story as much as it would an American. I’ve admittedly a cynic; I have no evidence that the world’s consciousness has become accustomed to treating American tragedies with greater solemnity than it treats tragedies that take place in other places.
The bottom line is that two-year-old Julen Rosello died. His body was retrieved from the borehole last Saturday, thirteen days after he fell in. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said, “All of Spain shares in the infinite sadness of Julen’s family.” The rest of the world seemed either to take no notice of the outcome of the search or to treat it as a footnote, buried beneath stories about Venezuela’s political chaos or Washington’s political madness. U.S. media covered the tragedy and its outcome, although not in a particular visible way. Only in passing, from what I could see, did the media take note of the fact that the experience for Julen’s parents was the second such heart-wrenching tragedy, the Associated Press noting that “El Pais reported that the couple had lost Julen’s older brother, Oliver, when the 3-year-old suffered a heart attack during a walk on the beach two years ago.”
I wonder how Julen’s parents will cope over the long haul? I wonder whether, indeed, they will ever be able to adjust to a life of perpetual grief and the stress such an emotional weight must carry with it? Baby Jessica’s parents divorced a few years after her rescue. Did the ordeal they faced during their daughter’s rescue have anything to do with it? I can’t say. But I suspect it couldn’t have contributed in a positive way to their relationship. The paramedic who inched his way into the tunnel to rescue Jessica battled posttraumatic stress disorder as a result of what was called the “arduous rescue effort.” Later reports say he struggled to cope with the decline of the recognition that came after his heroic act and he committed suicide in 1995. I don’t know who was involved in finding and removing Julen’s body from the Spanish borehole, but I gather the media attention on the rescuers hasn’t been nearly as intense as it was during Baby Jessica’s ordeal. Perhaps that lack of attention will save their lives.
Julen’s parents, I suspect, have no interest in fame or recognition that might follow the death of their child. But I hope, at least, they can depend on an outpouring of support from around the world. It won’t be as intense as the worldwide support that Baby Jessica’s parents felt. That’s obvious. But I hope it will be enough. Whatever “enough” is. But, of course, it can never be enough. Not after a tragedy that ripped one’s world into impossibly painful pieces.