These days I often find out more about news commentary or updates through my Facebook feed than the traditional news sources. These can be mundane commentaries on American Idol or the Eurovision Song Contest through to the highest profile of news events, natural disasters and tragedies. I learned of the MH17 crash on a kind of slow reveal on my Facebook feed on Friday morning, the day taking on a suddenly very different tone to the one expected. First was a reference to MH17 and expressions of disbelief which drove me to scroll through a night’s worth of newsfeed to learn of the tragic loss of an airliner making its way routinely across the globe from Amsterdam towards Kuala Lumpur. A route which I will be travelling in a week’s time, though my departure point will be Bangkok.
I know that the investigations and time will tell us what was behind this, but for the moment I am working on what is known. That some incredibly sophisticated surface to air missile or some such weapon appears to have been launched at a commercial airliner and resulted in its destruction along with the loss of the almost 300 lives on board. I had no idea that there was such weaponry in existence which had the capacity to reach, never mind destroy an airliner at cruising altitude. How naive am I?
The day was heavy, thoughts of this unimaginable event uppermost in our minds and conversations. News that many on board were travelling to Melbourne for AIDS 2014, the 20th international AIDS Conference in Melbourne came at some point in the day. This was getting a bit more personal now, as many of my friends and colleagues work in this field. And more than the personal connection, the loss of people dedicated and specialist where these are so needed. Any life lost is unacceptable but to lose brilliant minds unnecessarily is even more difficult to absorb.
I arrived home last evening, and stepped back online to catch up with any news or progress. And my heart stopped when I read a post from a very dear friend, who I will meet in the UK next month. He had arrived in Melbourne for the conference and was utterly distraught to find out about the crash when he had arrived. His distress was all the more as he had been given two options for his travel to Melbourne. He had opted not to fly on Malaysian, but on the other flight. I have no idea what the reason would be, and often our choices (after cost) are based on flight timings, connections and routes. It is a choice which he will never forget, I am sure. And I simply cannot get my head round this. That by some possibly arbitrary quirk, some have lived and others not. This is just so close to home and I am having trouble processing it.
And the part which is really troubling me is this. We are homo sapiens. We are the race which has been gifted with intellect. We deliberate and think. We study and write. We are able to design and invent. We are capable of abstract thought. Quite how engineers and scientists are able to create what they do is always beyond me. I cannot comprehend how planners and architects can create plans for bridges and houses and that they actually work. How do physicists know that their theories will work when they are all on paper? It is a mystery to me. They have brilliant minds which work in a way very different to my own. And homo sapiens has created some pretty amazing stuff. The car, telephone, computers, incredible communication technology and of course changed our world and lives through mass transportation. Such as aeroplanes. Amazing indeed.
But what is it in our race that uses brilliant minds to create things which cause destruction, death, pain and fear? How is possible that minds of genius can be diverted to such destruction? How can this be possible when we live in a world that is unable to ensure that all have access to clean water, or basic health and education services?
How is this possible in a world where we have been spectacularly unable to find a cure for so many illnesses and diseases? Lethal illnesses including AIDS and cancer? Are we such a wise race after all?