Planes are not supposed to just disappear. There should be radio transmissions and distress calls, not to mention tweets and videos and real-time reports. We live in the world of too much information, not utter mystery.
How can a plane just disappear? It can't, obviously. We just (as of this writing) haven't been able to find it, which makes its disappearance even more unsettling.
Terrorists? Could it be that we were secretly rooting that those stolen passports would prove a link to an enemy we could see, a familiar sort of terror? Then we could comfort ourselves by saying, "If only they had checked the Interpol list" — and even more, we could try to feel safe in the knowledge that no one will make that mistake again.
No such luck.
I am sitting in a crowded airport lounge, between the Notre Dame lacrosse team (Who knew how big lacrosse teams are?) and a classical orchestra on tour. The screens that used to show news just show ads these days, which are far cheerier, but when a 777 pulls out from a nearby gate, a man points, and the crowd falls silent as we watch it head for the runway. Who knows?
I have the numbers down. Flying on a big commercial plane is definitely safer than driving to the airport. Thousands and thousands of flights take off and land, on airlines we've never heard of, and we hear nothing because nothing goes wrong.
Perhaps most miraculously, in those one-in-a-million moments like this one, the world actually comes together. You wouldn't know that the Cold War had broken out from the cooperation being offered in a search that may turn out to be more misdirected than mysterious. In the midst of the horror, you might even feel some sense that there is hope for the future grounded in the shared humanity we muster in times like this.
Mostly, though, I just feel sad for all those poor people and their families, and painfully reminded of how small and vulnerable we all are.
Susan Estrich is a best-selling author whose writings have appeared in newspapers such as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post. Read more reports from Susan Estrich — Click Here Now.