Why Tragedies Like MH17 Tug On Our Heartstrings

I cried today for 298 people that I didn’t know.

I cried for the tragic loss, for how their lives were cut short in an instant. I cried for their families and loved ones – parents, siblings, partners, children, friends. I cried and once the tears started rolling they just wouldn’t stop.

I’m not one who usually weeps at the news. It’s not that I don’t care, for example, about what’s going on in Gaza. The chilling photos of the four children who were shot dead on the beach by the Israelis earlier this week brought me out in a fit of anger.

The ongoing tragedies around the world in places such as Syria affect me a great deal, to the extent that I sometimes think it’s better for me just not to read the news. I cannot help, so what is the point? A lot of the times I feel like I’m reading a piece of fiction. It’s just so surreal to me, and thankfully, not something I can relate to. And I hate feeling like there’s absolutely nothing I can do to make it all stop.

But there’s something about airplane disasters that really gets under my skin. And I think that so many of us who are lucky enough not to live in war-torn countries or who aren’t starving feel the same way for one reason and one reason only:

It could be any of us on one of these flights.

More importantly, we feel that it could be any one of our loved ones. We’re a society that’s continuously on the move, whether that be for work or leisure. Air travel is so commonplace now, that most of us are taking at least a few flights a year.

For those of us living in peace, it’s harder to identify with war. Although, yes, we can imagine how horrendous it must be for a mother to lose her child in a bombing, it’s more difficult for us to picture ourselves in these situations.

However, we can all identify with what it’s like to board a plane – especially those of us who are perpetual travellers. We all know how exciting it is when we’re on our way to a new country, and the come down that we feel when we’re on our way home. We all know what it’s like to suddenly believe in God the minute that some bad turbulence sets in. We all know the relief that we feel when we touchdown on the tarmac again.

We also know what it’s like to await loved ones who are coming to visit, or who are returning home from a trip. What it’s like when they tell us what time they will be arriving and what their flight number is just in case we want to check on the status before we leave to collect them from the airport.

We all know the excitement we feel when we reach arrivals and see the message ‘landed’ next to our loved one’s flight number. We all know what it’s like to stand there, waiting for the doors to open so that we can see their faces again. We all know what it’s like to finally see them come through, to kiss them and then hug them tight.

We therefore can also imagine how utterly devastating and heartbreaking it must be to find out that our loved ones’ flight has for some reason crashed. The mind-numbing pain and disbelief. The anger and the despair. We’ve seen the pictures of relatives in tears at the airports, and it’s crossed all our minds at one point or another:

That could be us.

What makes the MH17 case even more tragic is that the evidence is indicating that the plane was shot down. This was no mechanical failure. This was no accident. This flight was targeted and shot. This tragedy was therefore completely unavoidable.

The images that are coming in from Ukraine are tugging on my heartstrings. There, among the fields of blooming sunflowers, lie lives in ruins: body parts, mangled pieces of the airplane and charred earth. Personal belongings of the passengers have been found; iPhones, luggage, passports.

It looks like a war scene.

While accidents happen everyday, from car pile ups to natural disasters, plane crashes seem to have an even more chilling effect on us than others. We feel somewhat helpless when we’re on a plane. We’re at the mercy of the pilots, a piece of metal machinery that somewhat miraculously stays in the air, and now increasingly at the motives of an evil few who like to use airplanes as weapons against us.

298 people are dead and are never coming back. They won’t make the arrivals gate at Kuala Lumpur or their eventual destination. Their loved ones won’t see them come through those sliding airport doors and will now have to undergo months if not years of grieving.

And while there’s nothing I can do about all this, I know I’ll be hugging Ankit that little bit tighter tonight and praying to whatever or whoever is out there that I never have to go through that kind of pain.

It’s all any of us can do.

Picture source: AFP Getty