Katrina Hanson with Renny at the Jireh Home.
By Katrina Hanson
Note: Katrina Hanson is spending a year in Malaysia as part of the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program.
Originally posted March 13, 2014, at Katrina in Malaysia. Republished with permission of the author.
On the morning of March 8, I woke up to a worried text from someone in the States who loves me. “There is a Malaysian Airlines plane missing. I know you are okay and the other YAGMs are not traveling, but I’m still freaking out.” After reassuring that I was, in fact, safe in my own bed and I was quite certain no one I knew was traveling to Beijing, my heart skipped a few beats, too. A Malaysian plane? Missing?
So many things strike me about these reactions. A year ago I would not have noticed or particularly cared about one aircraft halfway around the world for quite some time. I’m sure the news would have gotten to me eventually, but probably not occupy my thoughts, worries and prayers nearly as constantly as it has this week.
Each time I walk into Jireh Home, after greeting whoever is around and assuring them that I have eaten recently (the Malaysian equivalent of “How are you?” is “Have you eaten?”), I ask about the plane. We follow news sources from every country involved and compare their notes. This year has pulled me out of “my own little world” into a big, interconnected world, where I deeply feel the pain of those waiting and wondering about their loved ones and the international impacts such an incident has.
I’m struck by the amounts of love humans are capable of. I’ve experienced it on a personal level and seen it on an international level. A friend I haven’t talked to in months happened to notice “Malaysia” in the news, and immediately wrote to check if I was OK. Other loved ones asked about my friends who were traveling and sent me messages on my phone with updates about the plane when I was out of Internet service. Prayers from the YAGM Malaysia team and our loved ones joined with prayers around the world, as at least 10 countries work together to search and rescue the missing people from over a dozen countries. The plane was flying from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, China. Just before crossing into Vietnamese airspace, all stations lost communication, and, as of yet, are unable to find any trace of the plane or the 239 people aboard.
Another jolt about being pulled out of “my own little world” into the big, wide world is a reminder of our vulnerability as humans. Of my own vulnerability. A missing Malaysian plane hits very close to home for me right now. I haven’t ridden that particular airline during my time here, but I see those planes, now featured on international news, at every airport. Two weeks ago I was in the Kuala Lumpur airport, where the news shows have shown shots of crying families. I’ve stood where the paparazzi are now, asking the airline representatives what will happen next, why they can’t find the plane, what happened? I don’t plan on traveling to Beijing anytime soon, but then, a year ago I wouldn’t have told you I would go to Ulaanbaatar, Hong Kong, Singapore or Bangkok either.
I’ve been on more airplanes in the past seven months than I care to count. I nearly roll my eyes at the safety precautions these days. I assume I won’t need them. Plane problems are super rare, right? The news is giving stats of safety ratings and accident histories of each airline. My boyfriend is wondering about the airline I’ll take home. I want to say, “Come on, statistically speaking, it is way riskier to step into a car than onto a plane.” Until I realize that is not comforting at all. I can’t imagine what it is like for the people who love me to feel helpless, far away. Then again, maybe I do know what it’s like. Because I feel helpless and far away, too. What if something happened back home? A car off the road? How would I know? How can I be in control? Protect the people I love? Have the answers?
I want to tell the people I love not to bike in the streets of Philadelphia, not to drive in snowy Minnesota conditions, not to walk on icy Iowa sidewalks to class, not to step on a plane. Stay inside and wait for me to come home and wrap you in blankets and put you somewhere where you can’t get hurt.
When the Jireh Home kids play soccer on our quiet street, I yell, “KERETA!” (CAR!) when I’m pretty sure there’s one coming within four blocks or so. Sometimes I try to keep them in the yard with badminton tournaments or card games. Or watching a nice, safe movie where everyone is sitting on cushions in one room where I can see them.
The last time I sat the kids down for a nice, safe movie, we watched “Finding Nemo.” Marlin the dadfish wouldn’t let his kid Nemo out of his sight, saying, “You think you can do these things, but you just can’t,” “You’re not ready,” “It’s not safe,” and “I promise I will never let anything happen to you.” Finally Dory, the hopelessly forgetful, trusting, accident-waiting-to-happen fish, points out: “Well that’s a funny thing to promise. You can’t ‘never let anything happen to him.’ Then nothing would ever happen to him.” Not much fun for little Harpo.
This summer I asked my campers who they thought my Disney soul princess was (a favorite getting to know you question). I figured Rapunzel because of all the hair, dared to hope Pocahontas for wilderness skills, or Mulan for all-around coolness. Nope. Dory. Not even a princess. Just a forgetful, annoying, friendly blue fish. WHAT. “Why Dory? Am I forgetful? I don’t remember...” (well, I thought it was funny...) It’s grown on me. I’m starting to think I can learn from my soul fish.
I want to wrap everybody I love up in Bubble Wrap, to never let them leave the anemone. But then where would we be? We wouldn’t learn how old sea turtles are, or make friends with sharks, or discover what the wide world has to offer outside our little bubbles. I started this post grateful for the way my view of the world has expanded, for the compassion I’ve been granted, the awareness of the deep love I have for others and they for me, the connectedness we all share. It’s a reason to leave the anemone. It’s a reason to embrace every day, to sin boldly and love deeply, to try new things and fail and succeed and pop Bubble Wrap and laugh and cry and pray and “just keep swimming.”
Because here’s the thing: It isn’t safe everywhere. We can’t protect the people we love from everything. We don’t have all the answers or control. There is agonizing waiting, painful anguish, people missing and hope fading.
What we do have is a promise. A promise that in this broken, scary, big world, we are not alone. We are not lost. The one who made us — adores us, died to save us — is far bigger than this big world. It doesn’t mean that the awful, awful things won’t happen to us. That wasn’t the assurance. We are dust, and to dust we shall return. Loss and death will still happen to us and those we love. But they don’t have the final say.
God has overcome death itself for us. God is not lost either. God is in the tears, the heartache, the freaking out, just like God is in the laughter, the love, the adventure and the hope. God can take our anger, our confusion, our grief and our relief. For what is a relationship if you can’t wake someone with freaked-out love texts or anger at lack of control? So in the lost, the found, in everything in between, our assurance is in the one who was, and is, and is to come.
Find a link to Katrina Hanson’s blog Katrina in Malaysia at Lutheran Blogs.