April 2018 Column Winner

Life is not fair, but its fairer than death
Jeff Mullin, Enid News & Eagle

Life is not fair.
Earlier this month, Wells Fargo Bank executive Jennifer Riordan boarded Southwest Airlines flight 1380 from New York LaGuardia Airport to Dallas Love Field. She was one of 144 passengers who walked onto the Boeing 737 that day.
The 43-year-old wife and mother of two buckled herself into her seat and settled in for what should have been a routine flight.
The routine turned tragic some 20 minutes after takeoff, when the plane’s left engine flew apart, the malfunction apparently triggered by the failure of the jet turbine’s fan blades. When the blades broke apart, centrifugal force hurled them outward and through the engine’s skin like shrapnel.
A piece of the engine apparently broke out the window next to which Jennifer Riordan was seated. The explosive decompression resulting from the loss of the window tried to suck her out of the aircraft, but since she was still wearing her seatbelt she was pulled only partially out.
After a struggle, some quick-thinking passengers managed to pull her back in. She was too badly injured to be saved, however. Thus Jennifer Riordan became the first fatality on an American commercial air carrier since 2009.
Life is not fair.
Thankfully, no one else was killed, or even severely injured. That is a credit to the pilot, Capt. Tammie Jo Shults, who has been hailed as a hero for wrangling the crippled aircraft safely to the ground in Philadelphia.
In truth, it would have been a surprise had she not safely landed the jet. Earlier in her life Shults was a Navy fighter pilot, flying the F/A- 18 Hornet.
All pilots are trained in emergency procedures, but for military pilots EPs are simply a way of life. They work their way through emergency procedures in simulators, in the air and on the ground, almost daily.
At Vance Air Force Base, student pilots are subjected to what is known as daily standup. They are called to their feet in the flight room to stand before their instructors and fellow students, then given an emergency procedure — including the type of aircraft, weather conditions, altitude, airspeed and the nature of the mishap or failure. They then must safely and plausibly talk their way to the ground. Failure means they must suffer the humiliation of having to sit down in disgrace.
Of course, failure in the aircraft means they and anyone on else on board their airplane likely will suffer death, so a little humiliation never hurt anybody.
Thus, it was that a highly trained veteran pilot was at the controls of crippled flight 1380 and fell back on her training in order to save her passengers and herself.
But nobody could save Jennifer Riordan.
Life is not fair.
On Southwest, there are no assigned seats, thus the boarding process on the popular low-cost airline is a cattle call, with people lining up in the terminal and choosing their seats only after entering the aircraft.
Thus, Jennifer Riordan chose to sit in the window seat over the wing, overlooking the left engine that within the hour would claim her life. She could have taken the middle seat in the same row, or any other vacant seat that struck her fancy. But she didn’t.
And now her two children will have to grow up without her, her community, Albuquerque, N.M., will have to get along without her civic leadership, and her husband will have to continue on without the love of his life.
Life isn’t fair.
Of course, neither was it fair to the 10 people killed Monday when a man drove a van onto a crowded sidewalk in downtown Toronto, Canada. These people died while walking down the street on a sunny spring day, merely because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
How fair was life to the young mother driving down a Texas interstate last Sunday afternoon. Amberley McCray, 23, mom of a 9-month-old, was driving down the highway when a car driven by a drunk driver slammed headlong into her vehicle, killing her.
Life is not fair.
But then, nobody ever said it would be. Life smiles on some people, defecates on others, sometimes on the same person on the same day. Bad things happen to good people, and bad, in nearly equal measure. As the old saying goes, some days you’re the bug, some days the windshield. And some days you are the bug right up to the instant your world goes splat.
There’s nothing to be done but to deal with it, or not. You could choose to refuse to get up in the morning, to pull the covers over your head and simply shut out all the bad stuff. But then something else will get you, like bed sores, so you can’t win.
Perhaps the best way to combat life’s unfairness is to embrace life, to live it to the fullest every day — to love more, do more, see more, experience more, give more — all the while realizing that when you drag your butt out of the bed in the morning there is no guarantee you will lay it down again that night.
Some people diagnosed with terminal illnesses say the experience focuses your mind, resets your priorities and sorts life’s wheat from the chaff.
We should all live thus, realizing that anything that doesn’t involve loving others and trying to make the world a better place is mere window- dressing.
No, life isn’t fair, but what a life it is.

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