Reflection: Boarding plane showed commitment to living

Duty, pleasure, devotion, opportunity: A belief in the future united the victims

HERALD-LEADER COLUMNISTJune 14, 2007 

In my mind's eye, I keep visualizing the passengers of the ill-fated Comair Flight 5191 in the final seconds before they boarded last Sunday.

That morning, 50 people walked up a commuter jet stairway, inspired by the anticipation of excursions yet to come and valued people soon to see.

There was the wife who had coaxed her husband to fly to Alaska for a chance to see the whales.

A veteran Habitat for Humanity volunteer heading toward the Gulf Coast to put the Katrina-displaced back into homes.

And one married couple from Japan who'd moved to the United States for his job. Together, the two were using the opportunity to absorb as much of America as possible. On Sunday, they were headed to Yosemite National Park to see the giant sequoias.

There is something life-affirming, almost romantic, in the mere act of showing up at the airport to catch a plane.

True, under the best of circumstances, the actual experience of flying on a commercial airplane these days is about as appealing as a trip to the orthodontist.

In a post-9/11 world, shoes, belts and coats come off in a mini-striptease required just to get past security.

Get through that, you are at the whim of airline schedules that often measure tardiness in hours. There is one immutable certainty of airline travel: If you're in a hurry, they're running late. If you're running late, they're maddeningly punctual.

Survive the habitual over-booking and get on the plane, and those flying coach (or commuter) with the common folk get the reward of sitting in an uncomfortably confined area with people you generally don't know elbowing into your personal space (and your ribs).

Yet, even with all that, people endure the experience because there is so much waiting at the other end of those flights.

Thanks to the work of news reporters from this paper, we know what led most of the people that became the passengers of Flight 5191 up those plane stairs.

If we'd been at Blue Grass Airport in the pre-dawn blackness one week ago, we'd have seen a Richmond couple flying to Florida to get married on a beach.

A Stanford couple, wed 30 years but with the romantic spark still lit, headed to Aruba because he'd planned a loving getaway for her 50th birthday.

There were the newlyweds, the former UK baseball player and the Centre College cheerleader, only hours removed from a beautiful wedding and now bound for a honeymoon in Southern California.

We could have watched two cousins, flying to Miami together to catch a cruise.

Or another woman, going to Atlanta to meet up with her sister so they could head to Alaska for a cruise of their own.

You'd have seen a member of one of the most socially prominent families in Lexington flying to Florida to spend time with her daughters.

And a dutiful sister headed to Florida because her ailing brother and sister-in-law needed her help.

There was a grandmother traveling to Alabama because there were grandkids to spoil.

We could have watched the Danville man who was flying to Georgia to scout out a different life for his family, having decided to leave his native Kentucky behind for a new job and a fresh start in Atlanta.

You could have seen the16-year-old girl, a horse lover flying home to Kansas, excited at the prospect of getting a new animal to ride.

And we'd have watched a Florida man cutting short a golf trip to Kentucky for an earlier flight because the pull of having Sunday dinner with his wife and two small children apparently proved an irresistible call to home.

See, when the passengers of the doomed Comair 5191 walked up those steps, boarding an airplane was the least of what they were doing.

Making vital use of the time on Earth God gave them, they were taking their lives and going someplace.

They'll never get there now.

Honoring their example, you and I still can.

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