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Elegy for the 298 of MH17

Andrew Hamilton |  20 July 2014

The central story of the Malaysian plane shot down over the Ukraine is a story of people — of the 298 people who died on the plane, of their relatives, friends, fellow countrypersons, and of all who share with them a common humanity. Each person who died and each person who grieves them is a person, each with their own hopes, loving and loved by others, each with commitments and plans made null in an instant.

The deepest questions these deaths raise are the unavoidable questions that face us all: questions about the patent precariousness and vulnerability of our lives, about what matters to us when our grasp on the future is so tenuous, about the mysterious conjunction of love, loss, pain and gift, and about the capacity of the human heart for evil and the terrible consequences that follow.

These questions are best pondered in silence and shared in intimacy, not answered in a sermon. In our first response to the crash our common humanity is better expressed in sorrow than in curiosity, in sympathy than outrage, in pondering than declaration, in prayer than in cursing.

The news that many passengers on the plane were travelling to an International Conference on HIV Aids in Melbourne was especially poignant. Accompanying people with HIV AIDS also takes us into deep human places: of illness, loss, stigma, heroism and faithfulness. That people who may have given their lives to enhancing other people's lives by healing and accepting, preventing death and encouraging empathy should have their lives and their contribution to life cut short in a momentary act of violence is a dark mystery.

For some, it will confirm the conviction that altruism is futile; others will find in the lives so sacrificed a testimony to a love that is stronger than the things that make for death.

In the coming days questions about who, what, why, where and how will be pursued exhaustively. There will be time for curiosity, outrage, declaration and making plans. But if we have the resources for it, these responses are best built on a pause for grief, for fellow feeling, for attentiveness to the mystery of life, good and evil, and — if it is open to us — for prayer for people whose lives took off but then fell unexpectedly into the earth.


Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.



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Submitted comments

For MH370 and MH17: "The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms." (Duet.33:27a).

Pam 21 July 2014

Thank you, Andy.

David Strong 21 July 2014

Thank you Andy you have put this so very well. Blessings on you.

Joan 21 July 2014

Thanks Andy. You speak truly.

Mary N 21 July 2014

thank you Andrew.

Caroline Jones 21 July 2014

The day the Sydney bishop gets up in the pulpit and speaks to the assembled leaders of our country at the cathedral about the evils of Manus Island and Nauru, the day he speaks of the evil treatment of our Indigenous nations, will be the day he is regarded as a true Christian leader. It is easy to talk about the evils of war and its stupidities, especially when you live thousands of miles away in a another country.

close reading 21 July 2014

Thank you Andy, so beautifully expressed

Rosanne Turner 21 July 2014

Yes Andy your reflection echoes so much that needs to be said from a contemplative stance. Thank you for reminding us of "attentiveness to the mystery of life" at this sad time.

Yvonne Harte rsj 21 July 2014

Thank you for attempting to put a positive view. I rather favour Omar Khayyam: "The moving finger writes and having writ / moves on. Nor all thy piety nor wit / can move it back to cancel half a line / nor all thy tears wipe out a word of it."

Frank 21 July 2014

This tragic loss of life was not due to an act of barbarism, as so many outraged people have cried. There was no possible gain for the rebels in firing at a civilian aircraft. They surely supposed the plane was of the Ukraine military, and their success in destroying it was a totally embarrassing blunder. They too need our prayers whether we like them or not.

Michael Grounds 21 July 2014

Ukraine is a country. We should respect that and not refer to it as "The Ukraine" - such misnomer serves only to undermine Ukraine's identity as a nation.

Neale 21 July 2014

Your words are so refined, so rare, so sound. Thank you.

Kerry Bergin 21 July 2014

Andrew, beautifully and eloquently expressed. It is time to mourn, ponder, reflect on the message of love out of respect for those innocent lives and the goodness as well as the fragility of life. That message will have more impact than any speculation on cause, blame or pessimism.

Terry Casey 22 July 2014

Andrew, Thank you again for your sensitive and intuitive words.

Paddy Sykes 22 July 2014

Thanks for this calm, thoughtful view. I am puzzled by your expression, " whose lives took off but fell unexpectedly to the ground " ? Peter

Peter Collins 23 July 2014

Thank you Fr. Andy.

Anne Slingo 25 July 2014

Thanks Andy. Once again you have been able to express in eloquent words our muddled thoughts about this tragedy

Daniel Torpy 25 July 2014

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