Dazed and disheartened by the tragic crash of American Flight 587 on Monday, I wandered over to Kennedy Airport in New York on Tuesday morning seeking solace or meaning or even something like comfort. What I found was the infinite wisdom of our fellow flyers. And what it boils down to is this: Life is an adventure–or a punch in the stomach.
It is impossible to overstate the horror and the fear and the misery of these last 60 days. Life on the road has been visited by events that are unimaginable, but, still, somehow, happened. The quadruple hijackings of Sept. 11 were unimaginable. The horrific ground crash of the SAS jet at Milan’s Linate Airport was unimaginable. A Russian aircraft shot down by a Ukrainian missile was unimaginable. Monday’s mysterious disintegration of an Airbus 300 en route to Santo Domingo was unimaginable. Seven fatal incidents in 60 days was unimaginable. Thousands dead when the Twin Towers fell was unimaginable.
But yet they all happened. And, somehow, some of us at least, continue to fly. Why? Because life is an adventure–or a punch in the stomach.
On Tuesday, I happened upon a CNN crew interviewing a mother on line for a flight. She was asked if she was concerned about bringing her daughter on a airplane.
“I’d never do anything to endanger her,” the mother said, earnest and defensive all at the same time. Then she looked at the camera and said, “Besides, life is an adventure. You can’t let tragedy stop you.”
A couple of minutes later, I ran into a business traveler looking weary and forlorn and rather lost. He had his garment bag and his laptop bag slung over his shoulder and he stared at the long line to clear security. Somehow, I just knew he was going to turn around and walk away from it all.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” said the man. “For some reason, when I looked at the line, I thought about the crash yesterday. It was like a punch in the stomach.”
And so it goes on the road now. Life is an adventure–or a punch in the stomach. The mother and her daughter flew on Tuesday. I am sure they got to where they were going. They are, I am sure, having their adventure. But I shared a cab back to Manhattan with that wavering business traveler. He told me had flown a half-dozen times since Sept. 11, but he just couldn’t do it on Tuesday.
As hard and as painful as Sept. 11 was, there was an immediate mood of defiance after the shock wore off. It was important to stuff down the fear and doubt and fly because, well, no one wants some lunatics dictating how you can live your life. The Russian and Italian tragedies were far away and, terrible as they were, they were quickly overwhelmed by the press of events in Afghanistan, by the anthrax scare, by the crummy economic news.
But Monday’s crash, which gets more and more perplexing the more we learn about it, is so damned discouraging. There we were, focusing on security after Sept. 11, and then safety came back to rip another gash in our hearts.
That image of the fireman looking at the gaping hole in the engine. The damned trawler lifting an almost pristine aircraft tail out of the sea. Wake turbulence. G forces. Men in blue windbreakers with yellow letters again. Shards of a once-mighty airframe scattered around the neat little bungalows and yards of the Rockaways.
Life is an adventure, but a lot of us are getting tired of these punches in the stomach.
Self-pity is useless, of course. And even after seven fatal incidents in 60 days, we know, intellectually at least, that the system is safe. We bet our lives and our livelihoods on the system every day.
But it is foolish to deny it: Every day it gets a little harder to live our lives on the road. Every day a little more love of the lifestyle wears away. Every day it gets harder to think about dealing with the airlines. Every day it gets a little more difficult to lie to our lovers and our kids and our families and our friends about the lives we lead. Every day it gets harder to lie to ourselves.
Life is an adventure, we’ve got to remember that. Even now, the New York Dominicans, for whom American Flight 587 was a lifeline back to Santo Domingo, know that. Flight 587 was so famous in the close-knit Dominican community that one of their best-known meringue artists even wrote a song about that morning flight. Flight 587 was more than an adventure for the Dominicans who depended on it to shuttle people and goods and money and food and clothes. Flight 587 was life itself.
So why does this all feel like a punch in the stomach?
This edition of Brancatelli originally appeared as a part of a regular series at http://www.joesentme.com. All rights reserved. This column was printed with permission.