song from a well

October 21st, 2020

It’s like we’re in a well. That’s what I say when people tell me about their angry and overwhelmed children, collapsed businesses, lost jobs, bankruptcy, overdue bills, sick and lonely parents, dead relatives, meltdowns and panic attacks, insomnia, and terror of going back to the classroom, the workplace, the polls. How can we begin to describe the descent we’ve taken into a darkness beyond reach or rescue?

It’s like a well, I say, we’ve fallen to the bottom of a well. I could never describe it quite right until I remembered that day in October 1987, a day I can still picture vividly.

She was 18 months old and 22 feet below ground.

No one knew how she ended up there. One minute she was in a yard of toddlers at her aunt’s house in Midland, Texas. The next minute she had disappeared down the top of an 8-inch-wide well casing. Rescue workers came within minutes and they thought they’d have her out within hours.

But it didn’t go quick.

That day, workers finished the first part of the rescue. They drilled a parallel shaft and started to bore a horizontal tunnel to reach the spot the baby was stuck. But the ground was rock, and jackhammers didn’t work when you tried to drill horizontally. The first day turned into the second and then the third. They had to come up with something else.

They weren’t sure she could make it that long.

Oxygen was piped down the shaft but there was no way to get her food or water. They dropped a microphone down and listened to her breathing. A space that small and deep is dark and stays dark. Alone and afraid, she cried and moaned and shouted. And then they’d hear her singing a children’s song and knew she was still okay.

It took 58 hours.

After an eternity, with everyone in the world watching anxiously, she was lifted up into the glare of lights on live TV and then kept a month in the hospital. There were many surgeries but she grew up like any baby to have what you’d call a normal life, with normal joys and pain, normal love and sadness, everything that goes along with life above ground. She has no memory of the events that happened 33 years ago last week, but some of us can’t forget.

We are in a well right now.

But we can remember the light. We can remember the song. People are helping, and we’re in it together.

The rescue of Baby Jessica on TV.
Photo by Steven Wright on Unsplash


  1. I always find great comfort in these lines from A Course in Miracles (that are the core of it’s message):
    “ Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists.
    Herein lies the peace of God.“
    Although when I apply that to the possible destruction of the ecosystem of our planet it does puzzle me. Maybe we humans are not what we think we are?

    Comment by Simone — October 21, 2020 @ 8:36 am

  2. In 1987 I was approaching the peak of my drinking/drugging career, and while I remember hearing about this rescue, it never really got into my heart. Thanks for sharing this beautiful story. And thank you for spinning into magic, your words. I feel wrapped up in hope and I know what to do next. (Oh, and what was the song ?)

    Comment by Bonnie Rae — October 21, 2020 @ 1:38 pm

  3. The song was “Winnie the Pooh,” but I have to think that since she was only a year and a half, she didn’t know any more words to that song than I do . . . “Winnie the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh, la la la la la la la la la.”

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — October 21, 2020 @ 2:17 pm

  4. Thank you dear Maezen. You are the Dharma and the Dharma helps everyone keep going.

    Comment by Kirsten Sopik — October 22, 2020 @ 6:09 am

  5. Jessica McClure doesn’t remember her experience. None of us, or a lot of us, will never forget these last four years, and tremble at the specter of four more, which will make eight indelible years. The longer one lives, the more things there are to forget, often horrible things, things that splash all over us, dry off, and are gone, until we remember. I walked away from my father a long time ago, when we needed each other more than ever. He died before I could come back. We would all drown if such things didn’t dry off. Oh yes, that happened, wishing it had not, wondering what it would be like if it hadn’t, regretting the lost opportunity, above ground, and still in the pipe, singing, trying to remember the words, waiting for them to pull us out.

    Comment by Larry Misiak — October 22, 2020 @ 7:56 am

  6. I will never forget watching her rescue … thank you for your wise words and the reminder.

    Comment by Lisa Baker — October 23, 2020 @ 5:50 am

  7. I have read this piece several times now and shared it. Looking around at the bottom of this well it is easy to think we are alone in the dark until a glimmer of light allows you to make out the forms of others, or a soft singing lets you know they are there. Thank you for always singing, Maezen.

    Comment by Connie Assadi — October 26, 2020 @ 7:29 am

  8. I’m part of a daily meditation group led by Shirley Riga — absolutely lifesaving. Today she referenced this reading, and I was in tears from the beginning. I’d forgotten Jessica McClure (and was probably too self-centered at the time to be fully sympathetic), but no longer! You captured beautifully what we’re all suffering together, and our need to help others through these dark times. Blessings, W. David Stephenson.

    Comment by David Stephenson — October 27, 2020 @ 3:59 pm

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