Every couple hours these days, I tap the BBC News app on my phone checking to see if there is new news. The story of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has moved from being the first news story covered these days, but it is still very much on our “front pages,” virtual though they be. For a time, every day there was a new revelation, as various sightings of debris in the South China Sea ultimately proved to be unimportant and it became clearer and clearer that someone had deliberately made the plane disappear, had made it become a “hole in the sky” as some experts referred to it.
It was at this point that the story moved beyond a simple wait to hear details of a tragedy to a genuine mystery. Of course, there are still the relatives for whom this remains nothing but an exercise in worry, with new revelations only serving to calibrate its intensity along with its counterpart hope, as they continue to wonder whether clarity will arrive amidst a sad collage of debris floating in the Indian Ocean or on a desolate runway in Asia with lives of their loved ones safely on terra firma but still very much in the balance.
After noting that this story involves very real and continuing pain, it is OK to acknowledge that it also involves real mystery, and mystery of a sort that is no longer common in an age when everything seems to be monitored, to be accounted for. How could something so large simply disappear? And if the plane flew for up to another 7 hours, how could it go undetected? Could the pilot have plotted and practiced so much so as to have actually successfully been able to fly undetected under the shadow of another plane, as one wild but strangely plausible theory holds? And where is it now? What has a happened to the the cell phones of the 239 souls on board? In an age of instant and constant communication, interrupted only by things like flying or perhaps now even only just take off and landing, why has there been no communication? No tweets? No calls? Of course such musings lead to darker surmisals of coercion, but it is still amazing that that this stunning silence was achieved and that we heard nothing at all.
And despite satellites and sea power of a collection of navies, the size of the ocean, too, is teaching us humility. If the South China and the Andaman seas seemed a challenge as we searched what of the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean? The black box for Air France flight 447 was not recovered for almost two years. If this potential end is what happened to the Malaysian airline, how long will it be before we know the “how” and the “why,” indeed if we would then ever know the “why” at all?
When I was young and I would see a plane in the air, I would imagine the passengers in the cabin and all their disparate lives and get sort of a lonely feeling as they flew away to journeys and lives so disconnected from my own. Tonight as I came home and saw the lights of plane flying above in the night sky, I thought of those 239 souls aboard that flight and wondered where they were. And though the word “souls” squares just fine with my own metaphysical commitments, its use in these past few days has struck me as a bit of an anachronism in our more secular times. Perhaps its use has simply been carried over from days of maritime disasters and it is being used almost reflexively. And yet perhaps the proximity to death which those poor passengers have almost certainly have felt in the past week also makes the word more apt, as the families of these dear souls hope and pray for their safe keeping.
A big thank you to whoever submitted my piece to this writing challenge. I am very appreciative.