Monday, March 24, 2014

The Mystery of Flight 370: Lost...

Lost (adjective) 1. no longer possessed or retained; no longer to be found; bewildered as to place, direction, etc.    
--Random House Dictionary

In 2014, how can a commercial jet airliner just seem to vanish, be lost?

It is a jumbo jet after all, a technologically sophisticated flying behemoth.  The Boeing 777.  Fully loaded it weighs a million pounds.  Fully powered it zooms through the clouds at almost 600 miles per hour and soars to 35,000 feet.  Two hundred and forty two feet long the plane can carry up to 451 people and travel nearly 10,000 miles non-stop.  Everything we know about this human made marvel would seem to suggest, even somehow guarantee, that a “thing” this substantial, this real, could not ever disappear.  Go missing. Right?

Not in our hyper-connected brave new world. Not when breathtaking technology links us in a second to others, to anywhere else worldwide.  Sitting in Massachusetts I can easily call a friend in Caracas, or Skype a buddy in Cairo or surf the web to read an Africa based blogger or book a flight, then jet off to Timbuktu or Taiwan.   

Click, tap, type, send: the distance from here to there seems so short, so small, so controllable. Google “map it” and we can see, be anywhere on God’s green earth, up close, as if we are right there.  We are a global village.  More wired, more linked, more integrated than ever before in human history.  There’s nowhere which is “nowhere”, yes?

So where is Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and the 239 souls onboard her?  Lost. Lost.  No avoiding this hard and sobering truth.

For the families of those missing folks, this mystery is heartbreaking, tragic, and awful.  I can’t imagine what it’s like to have absolutely nothing to go on: no news, no evidence, no real leads. Those loved ones have a right to protest, to push, to insist, and to demand that those in charge give them answers.  No question on that.

But what’s amazed me in weeks since the airplane’s disappearance is how totally freaked out so many of us are at the fact that even today, getting lost and being lost is still a real possibility, a risk.  That for all humans think we know about reality, about existence, about the big blue marble we call home, life is still a mystery.  Not every question can be answered, certainly not always immediately, maybe not even ever.  Not every solution is attainable. Not every corner or part of this vast world or even bigger universe has or will ever be fully plotted or parsed or tamed.

You wouldn’t know this by turning on the TV or opening up the newspaper or surfing the net.  Coverage of Flight 370 has been wall to wall since the day it vanished. Everyone has an opinion.  The rock singer Courtney Love tweets her theory and it goes viral.  CNN features alien abduction theorists and the ratings soar.  I get the natural tug of trying to figure out something so wondrous, so odd.  The drama of wondering “why?”  The newsworthiness of the story. It makes for riveting journalism.      

But what’s lost in this tale of loss is a humble recognition that the world is still a very, very, very big place and we humans are well…kind of puny. Flight 370 is tiny compared to the size of the oceans it may or may not have flown over.  A needle in a haystack is the operative cliché.  The earth is comprised of 196.9 million square miles of surface area, land and water.  That’s huge. 

What’s lost in our global speculation is the reality that even as humankind creates “safe” or “foolproof” or “life changing” machines, when we place these in the hands of fallible human beings, assume they’ve been engineered well, there is always a chance for failure.  Always. A plane vanishes from a radar screen.  A mass produced automobile kills and injures scores of drivers.  A tainted drug sickens unsuspecting patients.  No machine is perfect.  No human either, even in this modern world where it is so easy to assume we can know it all, explain it all, control it all and answer it all.  But we can’t.

As the author of Psalm 8 writes in a prayer to the Creator of the Universe, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is [hu]mankind….?”  The mystery of Flight 370 reminds us of our true place in the cosmos.  Not at the center of all things.  Not the master of all things.  Not the maker of all things. Nope. We are just one part of this beautiful and scary and wild and awe inspiring place called Creation.

I do hope and I do pray that Flight 370 is one day found. The largest air and sea search in the history of the world is bringing us closer to a final answer.  But for now…it is lost.

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