Monday, June 30, 2008

Musings on the Air India tragedy.

Being Canadian - well, being human - I have always felt the sadness and horror that has gone along with the Air India Flight 182 bombing that took more than 300 lives in 1985. I remember it surprisingly well; I guess I was just about 9 years old when it happened, before school was out. It's been especially intensified since there's never been any sort of satisfactory resolution to any of it; the families weren't even granted whatever little peace they might have found in the convictions of those behind it.

All of this was brought home in a big way, though, in the summer of 2005. I was sitting with the guy I was dating, at his kitchen table, reading a medical journal while he did chart notes. We were drinking coffee and lounging around on our day off together. It was bright and sunny, probably around 11 a.m., and I expect it was probably a Monday. Close to the 20th anniversary of the bombing.

I was reading The Lancet, I believe, when I came across an article about two doctors who had each lost much of their families aboard that plane. I spoke up, reading a passage of it to my boyfriend, and he stopped writing and looked up at me.

"Yeah. I read it." He said it so...flatly. I must have frowned or something, because instead of just going back to his work, he sighed and said, "I know both of those doctors. One's a really close friend, actually; she did some of her residency with me and Jim at Queens. Her sons were on that plane. They were young, too. Both of them under 16, if I'm remembering right."

Strangely, I only remember the name of the other doctor, the one my ex knows casually but hasn't seen for years; he called him Dr. Chandra. I wish I could remember the woman's name, though; her story was so much more personal to him, and because he knew her at the time this tragedy happened, he really put a face to it all for me. He clearly had a lot of respect for her, for carrying on in life all by herself, never remarrying, never having another child, and just throwing herself into medicine. Whenever I speak to him next, I'll have to ask him her name again, because I feel like I should spare her a thought, at the very least, every day when I'm feeling low or lost.

There was a documentary on CBC NewsWorld earlier about the tragedy, and god, it ripped my insides out. There were things I didn't know, or at the very least wasn't aware of all of the details, and a lot of it really shocked me. I did know that only one man, the man who built the bombs, has ever been or will ever be sentenced; the others were acquitted due to lack of evidence (or died before they could go to trial). What I didn't know was that a big part of this "lack of evidence" had to do with the Crown witnesses being murdered, or disappearing, or being put into relocation programs to save their lives.

And, of course, there's the added tragedy of just how long all of this took. The official inquiry didn't even begin until 2006. TWENTY-ONE YEARS LATER. How? How??? You can see what it's done to the surviving family members. It's etched into their faces forever.

I saw the woman - my ex's friend - but I missed catching her name. I didn't miss what she said, though. She was talking about how there is so much she still doesn't know how to process, like seeing their beds and knowing those people she loved will never sleep in them again, or reading recipes in her cookbook that she knows were their favourites, or smelling their clothes that still hang in their closets after all these years. And she said, "It's so full and yet so empty. What do you do with all of that?" I surprised myself by sobbing, out of nowhere. There was just something in her eyes that I felt, right through the TV screen.

ETA: Oh, my god - it just came to me out of nowhere. Her first name, anyway; I Googled her and now I know. It's Dr. Padmini Turlapati.

They also interviewed a woman who described how she was flying her father's body home on Canada Day, a week after the bombing. She said that the airline crew were trying to be celebratory, putting little maple leaf stickers on people's boarding passes and such, and this woman said she knew they couldn't know that this was the first father-daughter trip she'd ever taken...and that her father's body was being loaded into the cargo bay as she was shown to her seat. "The only time I ever flew with my dad," she said, "and he was already gone."

More sobbing from me. Because me and my Dad have never done anything like that together, and - fate willing - we will in only a few more months. God, how easy it is to forget what's important. To not know what you'll regret later.

It occurs to me now that maybe I have an answer to the question I ask so often: why do I seek out such horror? Why do I watch every documentary about every terrible thing that happens to people? Maybe it's because I want to be aware of what I stand to lose, and that I want to try to make the most of what I have while I still have it. And by that I mean everything: the friends in my life, my family, the health I do have, the freedoms I'm given just by being lucky enough to have been born in Canada, to have been born the "right" gender (meaning I feel right in my female body, when others suffer so much with their identities versus the hand dealt them by biology)... Everything. Even with the weight of the world on my shoulders sometimes, I am the luckiest goddamn person I know.

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