The boys gather around a portrait of Saman Kunan, who died in the rescue attempt. Their expressions show a deep recognition of the overwhelming spirit of altruism that saved them

Where are the fists raised in triumph? Where are the big front-page grins? A photograph released by the Thai health ministry of the 12 boys rescued against all odds from the depths of the flooded Tham Luang cave is a picture editor’s nightmare and a human marvel. Instead of raucous celebration, this is a picture about memory and mourning. In an age with the attention span of a US president, these boys can see beyond the amnesia of happy endings.

They are gathered with respect around a portrait of Saman Kunan, who died in the otherwise successsful effort to save them. Kunan, a former navy Seal, was placing spare oxygen in underwater passages when his own air ran out. In the photograph, the children and teenagers he died for show their unfeigned understanding of the scale of his sacrifice. Not a single face reveals a hint of a false note. Amid the relief and joy of a rescue beyond what seemed possible, here is an image of absolute truth. Yes, it was a success, but a man is dead. His portrait is cherished by those he helped to save with a sincerity that cuts through the routine dishonesty of our time.

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