The next six minutes

An Ethiopian Airline plane at Moi International Airport, Mombasa, on December 21, 2017
An Ethiopian Airline plane at Moi International Airport, Mombasa, on December 21, 2017
Image: FILE

On the Sunday morning of March 10, Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302, a Boeing 737 MAX 8, took off from Bole International Airport, Addis Ababa. It was on its way to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi. On board were 149 passengers and eight crew members.

Six minutes into the flight, contact with the aircraft was lost. Ethiopian Airlines ET302 had crashed in a field to the southeast of Addis Ababa, near the town of Bishoftu. There were no survivors.

To the 157 lives that were lost, may their souls rest in peace. To each one of their family and friends, my condolences.

This tragic accident, and the subsequent information that began trickling in about the Boeing 737 MAX 8, caught my attention in a particularly acute way. A little over 24 hours earlier, I had dropped off a family member at the airport to catch an Ethiopian Airlines flight, a Boeing 737 MAX 8, to Addis Ababa.

The person confirmed they’d arrived safely at their final destination, and then 20 minutes after that, I started hearing the breaking news of an Ethiopian Airlines crash on BBC. More disturbing were the follow-up news features on the safety record of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 and the parallels being drawn between this accident in Ethiopia and another one in Indonesia last October, involving the same model of aircraft. It was a little jarring.

As I was thinking about this, my mind wandered to the passengers and the crew of flight ET302. Who were they?

The official report says there were 35 nationals on the flight. They were men, women and children from all races, all ages, from diverse backgrounds, and of different faiths. They were different people from different places who spent the last six minutes of their lives together.

I can’t imagine that in those six minutes, especially in the last moments, any one of those 157 souls cared in the least about what was different about them from anyone else on that plane.

It makes you think. These differences we seek out in each other when we’re alive and then cling to, differences based on race, tribe, religion and social status that lead some to shoot up mosques and hotels — they are of no consequence. And yet, it’s often at the end, at death’s door, that we come to understand this.

Death will come to us all. It is inevitable.

For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one – Kahlil Gibran. One flows into the other.  

We do not know when it will happen, just that it will. It could be in the next six minutes, next hour, next couple of days, in a month or in a year. Why do we waste time constructing barriers based on differences when we do not even know how much of that time we have left?

Death is a challenge. It tells us not to waste time… It tells us to tell each other right now that we love each other – Leo Buscaglia.

We’re no different in death. We should aspire in the time we have left to be no different in life.