The aftermath of an airplane crash

During the last months of my Fulbright-sponsored PhD research with the Tado community on Flores island (eastern Indonesia), my then-spouse was a passenger on a Singapore Airlines flight that crashed upon takeoff from Taipei.

He survived. Ultimately, our marriage didn’t.

“Class Divisions,” my recently published essay recounting what happened, emerged after almost two decades of psychic angst and over a hundred revisions.

Writing – authentic, unrelenting, demanding writing – is one of the most powerful tools available to work through chaos, and its aftermath, in a compelling, evenhanded way. It took me almost twenty years to process the crashes (plural), and to articulate the soul-wrenching pain with power and elegance.

Beginning on Page 16 of the inaugural print issue of the independent art and literary journal Inverted Syntax, “Class Divisions” employs three different voices: a frantic one, a narrative one, and a scientific one.

The title refers to the structure of the essay, which can be accessed here: twenty-two vignettes, each subtitled with the name of a class that could be found in an academic catalog. The subtitles: “Civil Engineering, Forensics, Kinesthetics,” etc. are used metaphorically, ironically, and illustratively. Each vignette reveals a piece of the story, interspersed with scientific theories taken from aeronautics, biology, chemistry, ecology, medicine, physics, and psychology.

After reading excerpts from the essay at a standing-room-only crowd at an Inverted Syntax celebratory reception in Denver, Colorado in Spring, I finally had the courage to share the piece with some of my closest friends. Why did it take courage? Because during the actual events, I didn’t tell people what was truly going on: I felt it was my duty to be the loyal caretaker, the discreet professional.

This is still a difficult piece to read, and a difficult piece to share. Yet the insights gained can, perhaps, help all of us to move one step closer to a more compassionate life.

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