Belmont Club

Borrowed time

Hundreds of people die every day from accidents, which are for the most part, independent events. The fact that you’ve missed one totally random event has no bearing on how you’ll fare in another random event. Therefore the death of an Italian women in a road crash right after a trick of fate kept her from boarding doomed flight AF 447 is entirely due to coincidence. I keep telling myself that.

Johanna Ganthaler, and elderly woman from Italy, missed Air France Flight 447 when she arrived late at Rio de Janeiro airport on May 31, Times Online reports. The plane plunged into the Atlantic, just four hours into the flight bound for Paris – 228 people lost their lives. The crash is the worst aviation accident since 2001, and unprecedented in Air France’s 75-year history.

But Ms Ganthaler died this week, after her car veered across the road in a town in Austria, causing a head-on collision with a truck. Her husband Kurt, who was also in the car, was seriously injured.

Stonewall Jackson, for one, may not have taken the view that Johanna Ganthaler’s car accident was entirely coincidental. He famously said to men who wondered at his apparent indifference to danger that “my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave”.

But that was Jackson. Others would have been lulled into passivity by the idea that the road before them was in some way set. For some the notion that everything has already been written transforms them into detached observers of a drama whose outcome they can no longer affect. It’s no longer their life. Or is it? The 1993 Peter Weir movie “Fearless” was all about the crisis of a man (played by Jeff Bridges) who improbably survives a catastrophic plane crash and spends the rest of the movie looking at life in a completely different way. How exactly he should regard the balance of his life is the subject of the entire film.

Here, Jeff Bridges encourages a fellow survivor, played by Rosie Perez, to buy presents for her dead child.

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Maybe it’s not so crazy. We live in the middle of a story we don’t quite understand, and maybe never will. Thornton Wilder urged to us hold the strands of life in our hands complete, without illusion and yet without despair. In his story about five travelers who fall to the deaths from a rope bridge, we realize that the apparent meaninglessness of the ending is literary sleight of hand.  Only when we close the book do we understand that we missed the real story all along. “We ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.” When will we die? Maybe the only answer good answers are ‘will we?’ and ‘who cares?’


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