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Susan Estrich: The plane

 

Susan Estrich

 

I admit it. I have been obsessed with the plane. Most of the stories I've read offered no new information, but I read them anyway. 

 

In a way, I suppose, it is a relief to know that the 777, long considered to be an extremely safe plane, was not brought down by some as yet unknown engineering defect. 

 

But the fact that a human being, someone's son or brother or sister or mother, could get on a plane filled with innocent people, children and families, other people's loved ones, and decide to murder them all, in cold blood, in their seats, after seven hours in the air, consigning infants to a horrifying death, is almost beyond my comprehension. 

 

It is evil incarnate. 

 

How could a human being do such a thing? 

 

This is not a new question. How could the 9/11 hijackers fly those planes into the World Trade Center buildings, where thousands of hardworking people, of every race and religion, were just doing their jobs? Al-Qaida. Osama bin Laden. Extremism and hate. 

 

But no extremist group has claimed responsibility for these mass murders. If this was a political act, an act of terror, of crazed religious fervor, wouldn't someone have stood up to get the gruesome credit? 

 

I look at the pictures of the pilot's house. Just a regular house on a regular street. I look at the pictures of the passengers: regular people, of every nationality, kids and families, workers going home, vacationers seeing the world. What did they do to deserve this? Nothing. What has been accomplished by this horrible massacre? Nothing. 

 

Maybe an explanation will emerge, but it's hard to imagine what it could possibly be, other than pure evil. And pure evil makes the world a very difficult place to live in. 

 

Every day, we put our lives in the hands of others. We get on planes, trusting that the pilots will get us to our destination. We get on the freeway, trusting that the other drivers will stay in their lane. We cross the street, trusting that the crosswalk will protect us. How else could we live? 

 

And most of the time, the plane lands where it's supposed to, the cars stay in their lanes, and the crosswalk is sacrosanct. Except when it isn't. 

 

When I bring my fears to my psychiatrist, she tells me that it's the 12 percent problem. Most of the time, cause and effect are connected. The driver who crossed the median was drunk. The car that exploded was going 90-plus miles an hour on old tires. Tragic, absolutely. But understandable -- and maybe because of that, at least a little avoidable. I drive defensively, slowly, avoiding the cars that are weaving on the freeway. I don't fly in small planes piloted by leisure pilots. 

 

It's when cause and effect get disconnected that life can be so difficult to understand. Sometimes, the disconnect brings something good. A stroke of luck, we call it. More often, I think, the disconnect that we notice is the one between good people and bad endings. 

 

I remember when my dear friend Katherine was in the hospital, dying of a rare cancer, and another friend blurted out, "Oh, my God, your worst fear come true." Kath looked at her, puzzled. "Well, didn't you always worry that you would be diagnosed with some rare cancer?" the woman asked. 

 

Katherine laughed. "No," she said. She never did. She spent her life taking good care of her juvenile diabetes, loving her family and friends, doing work she cared passionately about. She didn't worry about a rare cancer. It killed her. But it did not destroy her life. 

 

Maybe that's the best we humans can do.

 

 

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