On Monday, the Prime Minister of Malaysia announced what most people already knew — that the missing Malaysian Airlines flight 370 “ended in the ocean.” In response, some victims’ families in Malaysia are marching the streets, demanding answers to their allegations that their government withheld information.
These families, and the world that’s grieving along with them, are being asked to do the one thing that the passengers did weeks ago – to let go. And that can be a scary thing to do.
As fears go, fear of flying is a popular fear. Think about it. On an airplane, you voluntarily make yourself a passenger in a metal and plastic composite tube, often flying over 600 miles per hour and five miles above the earth. Humans were not biologically designed to do this, and yet millions do every day.
To our animal brains, this unnatural act of flying must seem like an act of true surrender. Once the plane is in the air, passengers have no control over what happens. They are in the hands of the pilot, the weather, and the plane’s maintenance crew. In this way, flying seems like an act of faith.
Most of us are aware of the statistics on the safety of air travel compared to car travel. A completely full 747 would have to crash approximately every four days with no survivors to match the total number of car-related deaths in the United States each year. And yet most of us will drive a car without blinking an eye. The illusion of control that comes with a steering wheel, gear stick, and brake pedal inoculate us to the risk of driving.
Letting go is an art. It’s an admission that you have no power in the present to change the past. And when you admit this, the painful sting of the past no longer has the power over you that it once did. For those whose loved ones have died, letting go often requires focusing less on the pain.
When we focus more on the pain we feel over the dead, we find ourselves lashing out. Many of the passengers’ families have taken to the streets and are expressing their grief as anger towards their government. This is understandable. But a victim cannot exist without a perpetrator. So when we feel like victims of circumstance, we search aggressively for a perpetrator to justify our feeling. So we lash out at our government or any other potential scapegoat and thereby forfeit any true power we have in this moment to improve our situation.
Letting go of past grievances is just like the surrender required when boarding a plane. Perhaps I’ll think of that next time I’m watching CNN in an airport terminal.