I struggled to get up this morning.
Not because I drank coffee after 3pm the day before. Not because I stayed up late chatting with my partner. Not because there was a work meeting I wanted to avoid. Not even because I was getting up to an alarm with a number four in front of it.
I struggled to get up because I knew that I had to catch a plane today…
News that Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 had disappeared from air traffic control radars began to consume the public’s consciousness on Saturday morning. By the evening, the story was dominating television news coverage and topping every ‘most clicked’ column in the world.
As the weekend stretched on, it became increasingly clear there would be no heroic rescue or happy ending to this story. Whatever caused MH370 to disappear, it was now almost impossible that any of the its 239 passengers and crew would be found alive.
Everyone I interacted with over the course of the weekend was speculating about what might have happened. Other news stories dwarfed in comparison to the monumental, all-consuming horror and intrigue of what had happened to flight MH370.
Was it terrorism? A plane doesn’t just fall out of the sky these days, does it? How could there have been no distress signal? The pilot was so experienced, what could have gone wrong? Don’t we have state-of-the-art GPS something something now? Did you hear about the stolen passports? How strange is it that no debris has been found?
Next, the community’s treatment of the story turned to making personal links with the tragedy. As I chatted with friends and family in hushed pitiful tones reserved only for instances of mass casualty, it seemed that everyone had a story.
Several people laid claim to having flown Malaysia Airlines (unsurprising given they’re one of the world’s larger carriers of commercial passengers). One person had flown that exact route before.
Another knew someone who was supposed to have been on an Air France flight that crashed some years back. Others recounted tales of shocking flights where they’d experienced violent turbulence, loss of cabin pressure and even a lightning strike.
It makes you question why, as human beings, we feel the need to do this: to make some connection with such a terrifying and freakish event. What is it that makes us crave the reflected limelight of tragedy?
My friend and Mamamia columnist, Jessica Rudd argues today in the Fairfax press that perhaps we do so out of empathy. That seeking out some common ground with those who are suffering or have suffered is a very human, even primal, thing to do.
For my part? I’m not so sure.
It is only natural to try and understand what happens in the world around us by finding some link in our own sphere of knowledge. We cannot comprehend things beyond our own experience and so we seek comparison to what we do know, to what has happened to us personally. It is how we come to grips with the sheer scale of the horror. We seek common ground with the victims of the presumed crash of MH370 and their families; so as to make their fear and loss fathomable.
Air disasters are more terrifying to us than a war in a distant country, a decade-long famine, or the threat of a nuclear bomb, for this very reason. Most Australians struggle to find a sense of understanding and shared experience with these other causes of mass deaths.
But flying… Flying is something that we all do from time to time.
And it is something that very few of us understand on a deeper, functional level. There is also a complete lack of control. A sense of helplessness and inevitability that comes with putting your life in the hands of strangers. Some find it exhilarating, some find it freeing, others – like myself – find it completely terrifying.
For those of us who aren’t good flyers, this sort of story is one we would do almost anything to avoid hearing about. My partner quietly broke the news to me on Saturday, realising he wouldn’t be able to hide an event of this magnitude from coming across my finely tuned news radar. He knows I hate to fly. And he also knows that living in Melbourne and working in Sydney, I have no choice but to do it every single week.
For me, air travel, and the occasional associated disasters that go with it, simply reinforce the familiar tricks my mind plays on me whenever I’m in the air.
Humans were not built to fly my brain screams. This. Is. Not. Normal. I am up here.
With nothing but air – 30,000 feet below me. And I don’t get to decide when I get to come down. What if this thing just stops and falls out of the sky? Surely that sound isn’t normal. Why is the ascent so steep today? Was that a bump? But the captain didn’t say we were expecting turbulence. That’s it. We’re all going to die.
The completely random and almost freakish threat of terrorism, only compounds the fear.
It’s why in the wake of 9/11 back in 2001 that so many of us stayed very firmly grounded for some time after. On top of all the other terrors that come from being in a petrol-filled chunk of metal flying through the sky, we have to worry about somebody sabotaging the whole thing now?
Today our community’s thoughts are with the families of the passengers on board flight MH370. I cannot begin to imagine what they are going through. But in the coming weeks, as the immediate shock starts to fade and the news cycle returns to it’s regular churn, the hurt will begin to lessen but the fear will remain.
Fear, that the simple act of travelling to see friends and family abroad is – once again – no longer safe.
Have you been talking about the missing flight today? Are friends and family speculating about what might have happened? What are people saying? Why do you think people find this tragedy so intriguing?
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At Mamamia absolutely everything is up for discussion: from pop culture to politics, body image to motherhood, feminism to fashion. We unashamedly cover what everyone is talking about today: whether that’s stories which will make you laugh out loud, cover your mouth in shock, help you get informed or start you thinking about an issue in a different way and sometimes, we help you to just switch off the brain power from a few sweet minutes and kick back.