When I was in middle school, I went on a student trip to Europe. We spent three weeks touring, starting in Spain and working our way through the mountains into France, then a detour through Switzerland on our way to Germany before ending our trip in Paris. It was a transformative experience for me, instilling a love for travel, a need to explore, and a desire to continually enrich my life with the new.
Because I have a photographic memory, it’s easy for me to relive any portion of the journey with just a bit of earnest reflection. I pressed my face to the bus window as we drove on winding roads, the Pyrenees towering over us with lush greenery. I watched the sun slowly sink on the horizon over the Black Forest from the deck of my host family’s home, the father dropping by to wish us, “Good morning!” because that was the only English phrase he knew. I was breathless looking out from the window of a cafe on Mont Blanc, having never before understood just how beautiful snow could be. I still feel my heart race when I remember being in the center of Paris on Bastille Day, running away from children who made a game of throwing lit firecrackers at the American tourists.
Because I have a photographic memory, it’s also impossible for me not to relive a specific portion of the journey whenever current events bring it back to the surface. We were all exhausted on the trip home from France, and it felt like torture trying to stay awake as we transferred to our connecting flight. We were led down a long corridor to a sort of glass rotunda to wait for the plane, a small section of the terminal completely isolated from shops or restaurants. There were just a handful of gates, and benches, and people.
Seeing another group of students, we sat down with them to chat and pass the time. They were a little bit older than we were, but they were friendly and eager to hear about our trip after finding out we had just come from Paris. They were on their way to France, and were particularly amused by our stories of fleeing fireworks, so vividly told as it had only happened days prior. We only sat with them briefly before it was time to board our flight, but I remember waving as we went through the ticket check.
By the time we landed in DC, their plane had already crashed just off the coast of New York. There were no survivors.
I’m not afraid of air travel. I don’t worry about accidents or mishaps, because I have a firm grasp of statistical probability. I know that crashes are rare, and I know that I probably engage in activities on a daily basis that are more dangerous than air travel. But still, whenever I hear about a flight that goes down or goes missing, I remember that short, chance encounter. It reminds me that life is unpredictable, that misfortune is often random, and that we are all lucky to get the opportunity to experience today. In all its ups and downs, today is amazing because it is here and we are here with it.