In a world of lethal viruses and complicated machines, we fragile human creatures live forever on the edge.
It is a fact we are able — most of the time, and on most days — to relegate to a seldom-visited corner of the mind.
Then, in an unguarded instant, some terrible event — whether near at hand or in a distant place — obliges us to confront the troubling truth of our perpetual vulnerability.
Luck, or faith, or wealth and privilege offer no dependable protection.
Unforeseen and altogether undeserved, our lives — and things even more precious than life itself — can be irretrievably lost.
That bitter truth is clarified by events like the recent tragedy in the French Alps, where an airliner commandeered by a mentally unbalanced co-pilot plunged to its destruction, carrying 150 people to their deaths.
From the moment of reading the news of the crash, I have found myself preoccupied by that terrible event — and for a quite personal reason.
In March or early April of nearly every year, from the time our two daughters were ages 7 and 8, our thoughts have turned to a small island just off the Florida Gulf Coast — a place we’ve found to be ideal for fleeing the last miserable dregs of winter.
The first time we drove there. But the round trip of 2,150 miles by car was punishing. In subsequent years we’ve gone by air, which, though faster, is expensive and can also be taxing.
And now there is something even more troubling to consider.
Repeatedly over the last two years the news has been dominated by one commercial air tragedy after another. Several of the planes were operated by Asian airlines. At least one — the terrible and evidently deliberate crash in the French mountains — was a subsidiary of Germany’s Lufthansa.
Importantly, none of the losses was of a U.S. carrier.
Nonetheless, these awful events figure in my calculations about the vacation this spring.
In all likelihood, as they boarded their flights, the victims in these catastrophes would have harbored no dire forebodings. Their thoughts would have been on the pleasures that lay ahead — reunions with friends, new attractions to sample, new landscapes to enjoy.
Why would it have occurred to them that the journey on which they were about to embark would be their last?
The inescapable truth is that long-distance travel, regardless of the conveyance, contains an element of risk. Yes, planes crash. Cars on the highway collide. Buses overturn. Trains wreck. And even seagoing ocean liners sink. Not often, but it does happen.
The only absolute safety is never to go anywhere, and that is an unacceptable design for a life. So this year again we will play the odds.
Statistically, travel by air is the least hazardous of all.
Captiva Island, Fla., and the ’Tween Waters Inn are waiting. And I will not allow the monstrous behavior of one deranged young aviator to govern how I may get there.