Thursday, April 3, 2014

Crawling from the wreckage:
Jagger, Flight MH370, Oso and the month that just was

HE WAS only out there for 15 seconds, by most accounts, a man standing there alone on the balcony of his suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. But every picture tells a story. Sir Michael Philip Jagger, walking brand name, multimillionaire, lifelong pop-culture provocateur and the voice of the Rolling Stones, stood looking drained and bereft, lines of fresh woe etched in the woodcut face of a rock icon, the face of a man considering the price of doing what you love ... in life unkind.

He was there for the funeral of his longtime companion, L’Wren Scott, the emerging but already celebrated fashion designer who died by suicide in her Manhattan apartment on March 17. We can only speculate what demons — personal, financial, romantic — conspired to provoke her to take her own life.

He tried to put things in perspective. “I am still struggling to understand how my lover and best friend could end her life in this tragic way," he posted on his Facebook page with a photo of Scott. "We spent many wonderful years together and had made a great life for ourselves."

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He’d arrived in Los Angeles from Perth, Australia, where he and the Stones had landed in preparation for their next tour stops. A day, more or less, before his companion for 13 years was gone.

Upon learning the news, he returned to the skies, flying at least briefly over some of the same vast expanse of water that’s made the western coast of Australia the focus of the world’s attention for an entirely different reason.

What started on Saturday, March 8, as a routine flight for Malaysian Airlines between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing became anything but routine. In the three-plus weeks that have followed, as the fate of 239 passengers and crew of Malaysian flight MH370 got more uncertain after the 11-year-old Boeing 777 vanished from radar and GPS detection, what emerged was a global all points bulletin. The search vessels that have combed the waters off Malaysia, Vietnam and the western coast if Australia came from China, Norway, New Zealand, Australia and the United States — a kind of seagoing United Nations.

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THE COMMON objective of those involved in what’s become a global aviation crisis hasn’t yet yielded the results we’re hoping for — finding the plane, or at least the flight data recorder that could shed light on this mystery. But more than anything, the common objective we’re after is something else.

More than anything else, what we want from news of the still-missing flight is certainty, the relative assurance of knowing, whether what we know is desirable or not almost doesn’t matter at this point. It’s the suspension of certainty that’s become the most unnerving thing about MH370.

It flies in the face of the information we’re supposed to have so readily at hand in an information-besotted age. It undermines the confidence (and some will rightly call it arrogance) we have in things we believe to be as solid, as bedrock as the ground we walk on. And for some people, that kind of confidence was betrayed by that ground itself.

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The people of Oso, Wash., discovered how even that much confidence can be utterly misplaced. It was about 10: 37 on the morning of March 22 when the hillsides above Oso, softened by days and weeks of record rainfall, first gave way and slid into the valley below, at a speed that may have exceeded 100 miles an hour. Some reports say the sound of the hillside shearing off was reported on seismometers up to 170 miles away.

When it was over, at least 30 people had died, another 17 are still reported missing, and the square mile of destruction rerouted a river — with 10 million cubic yards of earth moved in an instant.

And after a disaster in which their community was blanketed by five times the earthen material required to build the Hoover Dam, the people of Oso started the process of climbing back from an event that was the tragically ideal metaphor for all our lives at the precipice.

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THE MONTH of March shook our certainty about everything at once, it seemed — from our certainties about the people we love, the nations we live in, the technology we rely on or the very ground under our feet. It’s left us with the burden of the Great Why. The why of why an airliner reversed course and headed, almost blithely, toward oblivion. And why the earth gave way and buried a bucolic town. And why a talented woman with years of life in front of her would strangle herself with a black satin scarf from an inside door of her apartment.

That uncertainty in our lives is no worse, no more omnipresent in our lives today than it was yesterday — things were bad in January and February, too. But some times, some days, it comes home more powerfully than others: the relentless torque of the modern world, the capacity for the worst kind of surprise.

Life, and it don’t stop. The crawling from the wreckage is underway. Somewhere in the bulldozer zone of Oso, green life is stubbornly taking hold. The people of the town have closed ranks, uniting under a common credo silk-screened on T-shirts, imprinted in their hearts: OSO STRONG. Despite their heroic resistance, the families and friends of the people who were passengers on a plane on a voyage to the bottom of the ocean near the bottom of the world will come to find a private certainty within the official uncertainty of the aircraft’s fate. They will be in agony, but they will live. They will move on. Old habits die hard.

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The man on the Four Seasons balcony knows a thing or two about that. After the funeral, according to news reports, he laid low for a time, retreating to the safe harbor of family in southern California. But his passion for traveling the world performing with his mates — something they’ve nailed down to a science after 50-odd years — has just announced itself again.

In May, the Rolling Stones will resume performances for the “14 on Fire” tour, including stops in Oslo and Lisbon, and eventually playing Zurich, Berlin, Paris, Vienna, Düsseldorf, Rome, Madrid and Stockholm, Allan Kozinn of The New York Times reported on Monday.

The month of March 2014 was a profound pain in the ass. It roared in like an annoyance and roared out like an agony. Now (and finally) it’s April, when spring explodes more or less officially and that force driving the flower through the green fuse drives us to distraction, carpet-bombing the backyard dandelions. So the grass can grow. That’s this month.

And this month, if you dare, look forward to next month, the presumably merrier month of May, when the weather’s better, if nothing else; and the sun’s in the sky longer ... and hopefully, things at least feel better. And the man on the balcony comes roaring back, to life, on the stage. In spite of everything. Just like the rest of us.

Image credits: Jagger: tk. Jagger and Scott: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Banana Republic. Malaysian Airlines logo: © 2014 Malaysian Airlines. MH370 tribute wall: Wong Maye-E/Associated Press. Oso landslide aftermath: 

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