Another major plane disaster hit the news in the last few days. I first heard about it on social media on my train trip to work, and followed up on twitter during the day, then on my return home, and ever since, with the stream of non-stop news services covering the event. The visual images coming through in photos and video footage were confronting. People just like me and my family died – many of them. Some were returning or going on holidays, others were travelling to attend a conference on AIDS in Melbourne. It could have been me or my family.
Somewhat surprisingly to me, the biggest impact of the personal nature of the disaster came to me through the vivid descriptions a reporter provided about what she could see at the crash scene. She described the little things that are so familiar to us – clothes, toys, books, toothpaste, passports – that were strewn across the landscape, across many kilometres of the landscape.
As the days went on a whole range of story angles were taken by the international media to cover the story. This has become very familiar to us now and we almost can predict the ways these stories will unfold. It begins with images of the crash scene, played repetitively until you feel it becoming ingrained in your mind. Then the personal stories of near– misses, those who should or could have been on that doomed flight, the responses from world leaders, the beginnings of the investigation that will take a very long time, political and security analysts with their theories about what happened along with the more challenging question of why it happened at all, graphic designs of the flight path and infographics attempting to make sense of what happened. The list goes on.
No doubt during coming days, weeks and months, these stories will continue to be reported and, like it or not, we will continue to be exposed to the details of the investigation as well as the more personal tales of those people unlucky enough to be on that flight at that time. We will each find our own way of engaging with this. We will each need to find our own way to manage this information so that we can continue to be hopeful about the future, to not let it spoil our hopes and dreams, to balance our awareness and knowledge with the capacity to continue to take risks and live our lives. Each of us will make sense of it for ourselves – just as we have done before when touched by other disasters.
We also know now that we need to be particularly mindful of the potential impact of all of this on children and young people. If adults find it confronting and confusing, children and young people might be even more confounded and troubled by it. The images they see can stay with them and become the substance of nightmares, promoting a very real fear about the world around us. They won’t have the same capacity as adults to balance what they hear with other information which helps to place it within a context – those old stories about travel by plane is safer than other forms of travel, that the vast majority of flights get to their destination safely and so on. We can help ourselves and our children by learning to turn off the news, to know when we have what we need and don’t need any more information, balance this news with life affirming and hopeful things, to use these times as opportunities to reflect on what matters to us, to appreciate each other and let each other know it. Because we know it could have been us or our families.