Flying, in a sense, is the ultimate freedom. Sitting in an airplane seat and looking out of the window, soaring above imposing mountains, vast plains and toy-sized buildings, gliding among and over clouds, all elicit a measure of liberty that very few experiences can parallel. To defy powerful natural forces of wind and gravity and take to the skies and glide back almost at will – each takeoff and landing is a beautiful reminder of the best of human ambition, ingenuity and intelligence.
And yet, my all my traveling savoir faire did not prepare me for this scene I witnessed last weekend.
Watching Asiana Flight 214 burn at SFO in front of my eyes evoked far too many complex emotions than can be captured by words. Yet, two hours later I was on an airplane myself and pondering a question simple, yet powerfully sublime: is life, perhaps, simply a random set of events ?
For the air crash itself there will be investigations and analyses, recommendations and write-ups, changes in designs and procedures. But at the end of the day why was this the one out of of the hundreds of planes that land at San Francisco every day that met this outcome ? More so, the combinatorial calculus of who found themselves exactly on that specific flight does pose the quandary: does life unfold despite our plans and intentions and what -if anything- can be done about its vicissitudes? If so many crucial moments in life are truly out of our hands, should we even bother to dream, to plan and spend time over the many decisions that we agonize over, often every single day ?
Karma is one of those mainstreamed loanwords that has come to loosely define “fate” or one’s lot in life. Yet an etymological and theological search of the word shows that karma is not simply a state of happening or a mathematical equation of good minus bad. Hinduism talks about karma as a vector of past actions, where what we do and how we do it, in this (and perhaps, prior) life defines the trajectory of our current existence. Yes, good karma can be “earned” but perhaps not in time to bear meaningful fruit later this afternoon. The Bible talks about fate not being guaranteed to any of us (Ecclesiastes 9:11): “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all”.
Human nature seeks answers. We are uncomfortable with ambiguity and fearful of the unknown. Hence “horror” movies portray unsuspecting victims falling prey to situations, characters and forces that cannot be explained easily. And when confronted with circumstances that offer no easy answers we do wonder: why even bother ?
My travels that day took me to the capital city of Washington DC. And no matter what your political leanings or policy proclivities, walking among the magnificent and imposing structures that have incubated and shaped the destiny of these United States is an awe inspiring and humbling experience.
The city and its monuments are a vivid reminder of how ingenuity and determination can overcome all odds. That a nation can be built on nothing more than the conviction of ideas, the courage to stand behind cherished principles and the willingness to work hard is a homage to the human spirit that both sustains and nourishes.
Above all, given the events I witnessed earlier in the day, it was a reminder that to dream, and to work hard to pursue those dreams is what has brought us out of the caves and put us on the moon. Life may seem random, perhaps it may actually be random, but what makes it worth living is the ability to dream and the gumption to pursue those dreams.