Dealing With The Tragedy of TWA Flight 800: An Essay of Thoughts

George Cassutto

When the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City took place, I was moved to write down those thoughts and feelings that were generated by the television and print media images. At that time, I wrote something that asked my readers to be slow to conclude that the cause of the blast could be attributed to Middle Eastern terrorists. That idea seemed to be justified when the perpetrator(s) turned out, apparently, to be American citizens (even though the accused have as yet to stand trial). Now, here we are in the present. We have witnessed through the miracle of television another massive tragedy where hundreds of innocent people have lost their lives. And those leading the investigation into the cause of the tragedy are reluctant to attribute the explosion to some sort of deliberate effort to cause widespread destruction. My hope is that the caution is justified but that it does not hinder the revelation of the truth.

Last Sunday, I went to my house of worship in need of spiritual guidance as I pondered the fate of those on board TWA Flight 800. The minister delivering the sermon feebly attempted to address the issues brought to the foreground as a result of the crash. Under title "When Calamity Strikes, What Then?" He mentioned the deaths of the passengers and crew and reminded us to have faith in God, who would see us and the victims' families through this tragedy and those to come. But I could not help feel a deep sense of despair and loss, even while sitting in that church pew, as I tried to empathize with the family members left behind without their fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters.

I came to recognize, once again, that such an event forces the average thinker to squarely face his or her theology, and along with it, we ask ourselves the eternal questions of life and death. In the words of a recent book title, these events lead us to ask "why do bad things happen to good people?" Compounding the confusion that these events generate is the fact that the primary suspicion in this case is that someone or some group actively plotted to bring the plane down. So we are not only left with a massive loss of life, but with a numbing evil that has no regard for the value of humanity that was destroyed. We are led to question the existence of God, and if we still agree with his existence, we must ask about His motives, His role in bringing about the events, or at best, in failing to prevent them.

When we witness such events, we are led to question what kind of God would allow such evil to take place. The same kind of questions come to mind when we study historical instances of human aggression such as the Nazi Holocaust or the Cambodian and Rwandan genocides. Yet, the internal discourse that takes place within our individual and social psyche leads us to conclude that such acts have little or nothing to do with God or actions attributed to him (it), but rather, these actions are the result of the free will that is part of the human condition. The kindness, humanity, and togetherness that comes forth in response to Man's disregard for life is the testament to God's interactivity with humankind that we all so desperately seek.

My minister often responds to me when I ask these questions: "George, save it for heaven." I know she means that we may never arrive at the answers we do earnestly desire when we sense the helplessness that arises in these instances. Only when the final curtain comes down on our temporal existence will we be afforded a glimpse of the "foolishness of God," which, as the Bible says, is like our best attempt at knowledge. But for now, we struggle to understand, we strive to empathize, and hopefully, try to reach out to counter the destruction around us through building relationships and through kindness to those whom we love and with whom we must co-exist.

July 23, 1996

For Information: CNN's Special Coverage page

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