Mar 12, 2014

Missing a flight but not Hope

"The shadow makes it look SO real!"
Oyon (7) has the sharp little ears of kids his age. Eager to make sense of the world but without the requisite input, his antennae seem to constantly be picking up small details that he then mosaics together his own way. So he hears a lot that we choose to not share with him - from kids at school, snippets of radio and the general conversation surging around him.

He's completely into aircraft and flight again, undoubtedly fueled by the recent trip to India. So I assumed that it was only a matter of time before he heard about the missing Malaysian Airlines airplane and demanded to know more. In the interest of peace, I broached the subject myself as he played yesterday after homework. 
      "I know. Baba already told me." was his casual response.

Well, of course he did. His father has a subtle touch with sharing disturbing news. He does it well, with minimal drama and maximum objectivity. But I worry about where it's going to go AFTER it's entered the crowded interior of Oyon's busy little mind. I've faith, like his father, in Oyon's ability to parse the good from the bad but we've sometimes seen an emotional fallout. So I thought I'd hang around, nearby while he's working it out.
      "I think maybe some of the passengers are sailing in a lifeboat right now." he casually added, confirming that he hadn't indeed dismissed the news as blithely as it seemed. His hope was devastating in the face of the evidence.
     "They might be, though it isn't looking likely. The search has been pretty thorough and no sign of survivors yet." I responded carefully.
     "But how about waves? The ocean moves. Currents and stuff. The lifeboat and the swimmers might be floating this way, that way, every way! Have they looked ALL over the sea? And Mamma, is the China Sea very deep? I mean, is it really bad if a plane falls in it?" He had put down his plane by now and wormed his worried way onto my lap.
      "They ARE looking in every direction Oyon, and in every part of the sea." I reassured him with a hug.
      "And has America and India and all the continents sent some planes and ships to help?" he asked.
      "I think they have. But I'm afraid it's likely that some passengers have died. Maybe all of them." I added, noting how thoroughly he was mulling over this and the dark conclusion he was heading towards. This band aid needed to be ripped off now.
      "But you know not all flights end this way, right? Most flights are perfectly safe. You've seen so many documentaries about how well planes are engineered - they catch most problems even before take-off. And even the ones that get into trouble.....HEY! Want to hear a REALLY cool story?" I babbled in sudden delight. In my desperate casting-around for a silver-lining, I'd remembered Capt. Sully in the nick of time. Remember him? Here's his story.

Synopsis: In the early part of 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 took a bird-hit to its engines right after taking off from a NYC airport. The calm and confident crew landed the completely stalled aircraft IN the Hudson River. With the help of first-responders and passenger ferries, all lives on board were saved. 

Of course I didn't remember any details so we happily dove into YouTube. Katie Couric's interview with Capt. Sullivan and his crew not only reassured us that there are happy endings, but reminded us of the value of a calm head. The elegant, elderly pilot recalled the crisis, illustrating everything for Oyon that I hadn't ready references for. His natural fear, his defeat of it, his focus, teamwork, the goodness of everyday folks and so much more that came together to save that day. More than anything else, what struck me from his interview was this exchange:
                Katie Couric: What did those three and a half minutes feel like?
                Capt. Sully: They felt exactly like three and a half minutes.

No hyperbole, little drama. He made a calm case for the value of training, focus and to simply do what had to be done in a crisis. He seemed to embody the very essence, of heroism and hope, alike.

Once when Oyon was 5 and trying to fight his fear of monsters in the dark, I had pushed him too hard. My frustrated little boy said something to the effect "Why do I HAVE to be brave? I'm not a hero who isn't scared of anything!"
I couldn't help doing some course-correction for the predictable trap he was falling in. I told him that in my opinion, heroes CAN be afraid, perhaps even terrified. What sets them apart is that they do the right thing anyway. They're not special because they don't have any fear, but because they defeat their fear. Anyone can be a hero. At that point, fire-fighters and police-officers were trending in his life so easy illustrations for my point were plentiful. Not so easy thereafter as reality started creeping stealthily into his awakening mind. Now it's harder to see heroes and villains in such distinct shades as he learns more about ambiguity and humanity.

And it shouldn't be. Easy. If your heart and mind are open, you see all possible realities - not just the obvious, easy ones. That was my whole point.

We've touched many times in the intervening years upon good and bad, happy and sad and the many shades in between. Oyon has heard about a school shooting and been in lock down drills in his classroom, a marathon bombing and a terrifying lock-down at home and he's heard about war and violence all around the world. Every time, we've sought and found some balance, some redemption - reasons why people do bad things, how we can help, how we can prevent it. And every time, we've visited the many things that are still good in this world. Sometimes News graphs helped, other times just re-framing the discussion to find silver linings. Knowing there is goodness and Hope helped counter the undeniable badness and pain every time.

I was afraid I had run out of 'balance' to offer when this tragedy started to unfold. Then not only did the heroism of Sully come to our rescue, but look what was in the news this morning:

For the times we have thrown up our hands up in despair at technology and how it's withering peoples' connections to each other, is this report: a crowd sourced search is on for the missing Malaysian airlines Flight 370. The process is not working as it exactly should (the site is crashing from so many hits) but what that really means is that hundreds of people everywhere are helping. Or at least trying to. From their living rooms, dorm rooms and offices, wherever. How can anyone NOT be amazed and inspired that the world has also shrunk national boundaries in this way? That it enables global citizenship and empowers people to make a difference, even if it's a small one.

So now I've something more to share with my little human when he returns from school today. Sometimes good people get hurt for no good reason, sometimes things that you count on fail. But good things happen too - in the darkest of times.

And that's no small thing.

Oyon-ism (7+) - added the day after first posting the above
On hearing about the crowd sourced search for the missing Malaysian flight:
Oyon: Can we also see the radar map of where the plane last was? We could work out where it is in the ocean.
Me: How?
Oyon: I can look near there and where the currents go and see if there's any pieces of trash in the sea with letters like 'Mal..' because it could be a part of the plane with the logo, like the tail fin!
Me: What else would help find the plane?
Oyon: A floating sandwich from the flight lunch. If it was cut in half I'd know the roof of the plane collapsed and chopped it. Then we'd figure out how to stop it from happening again.
Me: Wouldn't it get soggy and sink?
Oyon: Oh yeah, It might. Then I'd look for pieces of paper that the lifeboat people cut up and threw in the water, like a trail. Wait - they'd sink too. Maybe they would think of using plastic instead?
Me: All good ideas.
Oyon: We definitely need to find that black box: though that would sink for sure. So why aren't they using submarines to look UNDER water? Never mind, I'm pretty sure that by now a sea monster or a giant squid has eaten it up. Hey why not use satellites that can see THROUGH water? And the oceans connect you know, so why don't they search them ALL ? Like the Indian ocean and the Pacific and Atlantic?

We reached school and he carried on into the cafeteria where early care is staged before school officially starts. Can't wait to hear what other plans he's come up with and hope we can spend a few minutes searching the web-site to do our little part.

A few days later, he finished homework in record time and found himself with spare playing time. Usually it's a sacred time of the day and comes at a premium. Sometimes his playtime agenda is serious enough that I'm not even allowed to chat with him because it would distract and derail his plans. Other times he's happy to hang out and chill. This night he asked me if he could trade his 'screen time' for the next day (he's allowed to play on the iPhone on Monday and Wednesday during the drive to and from Karate class) for a chance to search for the missing flight. It's a trade I was happy to make. We fired up the computer, pored over all the Google images on offer of flight paths and search areas and then scanned a few tiles of the Malacca Straits on the DigiGlobe TomNod satellite photographs. Couldn't really tell  surf-caps apart from potential debris so I didn't feel that we'd added any real value.

But a few minutes later this is what I find:
He had recreated the radar map of the last known location of Flight 370. Later at dinner that night he solemnly announced to me, his dad and his Uncle Mark that he had a theory for what had really happened.

A giant, unknown sea monster had arisen from the ocean, yawned very wide and by mistake, swallowed the airplane.

He wasn't being flippant or funny. He seriously thinks we ought to consider ALL possibilities. We're not arguing with him.


  1. Of course we must consider all the possibilities, and you can't argue with this one :)
    Such a heartwarming post, this.

    1. Thanks for commenting R. And for seeing the hope in this.

    2. BTW, if you found this hopeful, check out the post on 'News graphs'. It's linked to in this post.I think you'll like it.