It's funny how little things happen in life that make everything turn out differently.
In November of 1988, I was serving as a soldier in West Germany. I wanted to go to the U.S. on leave to visit my family, and a girlfriend who had just moved to Alabama. So I went to the military travel office - SATO - and tried to book a flight out of Frankfurt to New York for December 21st. I figured that would give me time to work out the jet lag, celebrate New Years with the girlfriend, after Christmas with my family in New York. The travel agent got a tentative reservation for the flight, there would be a transfer at Heathrow, and asked for payment. When I whipped out my checkbook, she said she couldn't accept checks from soldiers below a certain grade - I think it was E-7 or something. I was mildly insulted based on my paygrade, and extremely irritated at this petty bureaucratic rule. Nevertheless, I wanted to get home for Christmas, so I went to the military community bank, the American Express Bank, to get cash or a cashier's check, or some other form of tender that SATO would find acceptable coming from such an unworthy person.
There was some delay at the bank, it may have been their lunch hour or something, or maybe I had to meet somebody at lunch on the way to the bank. I don't remember, but it took a little while. When I got the money and came back 45 minutes later, I went to pay for the booking but the last seat had been taken. I asked the travel agent to book me on the same flight, next day. She did that, I paid, and then I forgot about it.
About three or four weeks later, a little after dinnertime on December 21st, a British soldier in the garrison bar confronted me about his unit's big Christmas party having been canceled. He was angry in the extreme, and wanted to pick a fight with me, saying it was "all the Americans' fault." I had no idea what he was talking about, when one of the bartenders clued me in, that a flight full of Americans had been blown up in Scotland, and wreaked havoc as it crashed into a Scottish neighborhood.
I didn't think a whole lot about it until I got to Frankfurt the next day to fly to Heathrow. It was a confusing transfer in Frankfurt because the numbers of my flights had been changed, and the stopover had been changed from Heathrow to Brussels. My itinerary looked totally different from how it had looked when I confirmed it the previous afternoon.
That's when it hit me: Flight 103, blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, might have been the plane I had tried to get a reservation on. I'm not entirely positive it was; Pan Am had a lot of flights going out on the same day and it may have been a different one. Still, it was close enough to the flight I tried to book that I found it chilling. Thank goodness for the stupid little bureaucratic rule that kept me off that flight, eh?
Making matters worse, I found out that two guys in my unit - not close friends but buddies, guys I knew to speak with or hang out with - were on that flight. There was also a bunch of Syracuse University students, with whom a few of my friends in Syracuse had ties.
Christmas was okay that year but it wasn't as much fun as I'd hoped. A bit of a pall hung over it. Still, I moved past it and I don't think about it often, any more than you'd think about nearly being hit by a bus five years ago. That kind of thing normally doesn't bubble to the surface spontaneously.
This week, Flight 103 and the man convicted of committing the mass murder have been in the news. It seems that he guy is ill, so the Scottish government has decided to release him back to Libya on humanitarian grounds. It has been reported that he has returned to a hero's welcome.
Humanitarian grounds, huh?
I'm wondering the Scottish government will bring my buddies, or any of the other 268 people who were murdered in cold blood, back to life on humanitarian grounds?
I don't like to wax expressly political here but this particular event hits a bit close to home for me. On of the things that bothers me about Oprah Society is that we don't take anything seriously, starting with the value of human life. Letting a guy convicted of killing 270 people out of jail after seven or eight years served basically spits on his victims and their survivors and friends. It says that the great loss unfairly and unjustly inflicted on the victims and those tied to them by bonds of blood and affection just doesn't rate compared to the delicate sensitivities of some Scottish judge or some diplomat. It is unjust in the extreme. I'm not saying we need to be cruel to the mass murderer; but we do need to insure that men like him leave this life from behind bars. Society put a price on the victims' lives when they convicted this man to life imprisonment. When they released him, the price stood at about 10 days served for each victim.
Seems to me that is treating human life awfully cheaply.
I can't help but wonder if a society that cheapens life in that extreme of a manner will not face other major social problems later on. It's easy to disregard crime if it doesn't happen to us, war, terrorism, all that other crap. That stuff is remote, right? But the thing is, society is like a big blanket. It's made out of a lot of threads. You ignore the way it's getting frayed on the edges, and pretty soon, you're looking at great big runs in the fabric, right across the middle of it. You can't let some shitweasel pull away at the threads on one corner, and expect that the rest of the blanket will stay intact. All those little threads, those little strands of life in society, are interwoven. That's the point of discussing my associations with this distant event, that on its surface, has nothing to do with some guy who rides a bike in D.C. Nah, I'm not saying you're either with me or you're with the terrorists. But I am saying that if you don't bat an eye to events like this, you're ignoring societal unraveling, an ignorance that in the long run won't be in your best interest. Broken windows policing, people. Broken windows.
Sorry not to be spreading the joy here like I usually do on Fridays but this little bit of news has given me a serious WTF moment.