A Year In England – December – Lockerbie

December 1988 – The short days of winter, which have never been my favorite, made lighter by  Christmas decorations. After several years of having a four-foot tall artificial tree on my dining table, a live tree stood in the middle of the combination lounge/dining room. Decorated with borrowed lights and tinsel, some of my jewelry, and homemade decorations, the tree filled the room with the scent of cedar, a reminder of my childhood. As Christmas approached I thought about looking for a flight back to the States, but decided I wanted to stay and experience the holidays in England.

Wednesday, December 21st was a day like many others. Dinner was finished and the washing up done. A coal fire burned hot in the fireplace adding warmth and light to the room as I watched TV. I don’t remember what I watched, but it was probably a show from America. Many were shows I had never or rarely watched before, but the sound of an American accent eased my holiday homesickness.

Suddenly the BBC News broke in. Reports were coming in that a plane had crashed in Scotland. Having lost contact with control towers, it then came down on the town of Lockerbie. As the reports continued, I learned there had been a bomb on board, the explosion causing the plane to fall from the sky. The details of Pan Am 103 were shown: originating in Frankfurt, Germany, the flight had a layover in London, before heading to New York and then Detroit, it’s final destination. The flight was delayed leaving London and I realized that if it had left on time, the bomb would have exploded over the Atlantic Ocean. I wondered how close to my village that flight had been, and how many other planes flew over me daily. What if one of them had a bomb on board?

Though horrified as the details came out, I could not bring myself to turn off the TV. If I had actually decided to go back to the States for the holidays, I might have been on that flight. Fear set in, and for about thirty minutes, I decided that once I got back to American soil, I was not leaving it again. It was too dangerous out in the world. Images from Lockerbie appeared on the TV screen. While some of the plane’s debris had landed in fields, large sections had crashed down on houses in town. In an instant people sitting at home on a cold December evening, watching TV and enjoying the warmth of a coal fire, were obliterated. It was a stark reminder that staying home did not mean I was safe. Hiding away, refusing to go out and explore the world, wasn’t what I was looking for.

By the time the reports ended and I went to bed, I knew I would not give in to the fear. I could grieve for those whose life was cut short, I could take precautions and make good decisions about where to go and when, but I would not stop going. In the thirty years since the Lockerbie bombing, there have been other plane crashes. Some have been terrorist acts, but many others have been mechanical failures. Though I have not traveled as much as I planned to back then, it has not been fear that kept me from it. I still get anxious at take-off, praying that every part works as it should, but I do not worry about being blown out of the sky by a bomb.

The world is not always safe. Crazy people remain, determined to take out people in their way. Accidents happen. Since moving to Florida five years ago, I’ve been through two hurricanes. Daily news reports tell of innocent people killed, caught in the crossfire of guns or in automobile accidents. Lately, our food supply (romaine lettuce and canned corn) seems increasingly unsafe. All I can do is continue to make the best decisions I can. And as I decided thirty years ago, I choose to not let fear will win.


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