I find myself anguished by this week’s plane crash in the French Alps. More saddened than I would normally be to hear about mass tragedy in another part of the world. That’s not to say that I don’t reflect on the blessings I have whenever I hear about something so tragic, but this one seems different. Perhaps it is because Jon and I had flown home from our vacation in Utah just the day before, on two different small, regional jets.
The news that investigators believe that the crash was a deliberate act by the copilot is heartbreaking. Maybe most heartbreaking because of the fact that it wasn’t all that shocking to hear. We live in a world where things like this happen more often than any of us would like to admit. In 1999, the crash of an EgyptAir jet is widely believed by U.S. investigators to have been caused by a suicidal pilot. Egyptian officials were not able to come to grips with that, and still maintain that the plane crashed due to a mechanical failure. There are others, plane crashes, car crashes, either proven or suspected to have been caused by someone’s suicide.
The fact that the copilot of that Germanwings plane, a young man with most of his life still ahead of him, was consumed by such deep despair that he would end his own life and take 149 others with him is incomprehensible to me. No outward sign of rage or grief from that cockpit audio. No reaction to the sound of the pilot frantically trying to get back in; no reaction to the sound of the terrified screams in those last moments – just silence. How does someone have such a disregard for life that they could calmly and quietly fly a plane into a mountain?
We have known for awhile that the mental health system is broken in the United States – that we need to make drastic changes in order to stop the cycle of tragedies occurring here. Apparently, the U.S. is not alone. We have moved from a culture of institutionalization, to a culture where involuntary commitment is an insurmountable hurdle. Where innocent lives are at risk due to our inability to intervene. There has to be some middle ground.
I reflect on the random collision of events that spelled the end for those passengers, simply due to a chance encounter on a flight with this particular man. How do I reconcile that knowledge without giving up hope that the world is still a beautiful place?
Perhaps the last stanza of my favorite poem, Desiderata, written in 1927 by Max Ehrmann, sums it up best. “Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.”
My prayers are with those families. May they find solace.