When the news broke of the Germanwings plane crashing in the Alps, the world, as it does every time a plane goes down, took a beat.
Regardless of your distance, personal disconnect to a tragedy, or your ennui over awful world events - your basic humanity has a reaction. In those moments, it is almost impossible to not mentally place yourself in those circumstances, to imagine what you would do, think, feel.
That's because flesh is flesh, blood is blood. Regardless of what prejudices we may carry around, preconceived notions we have about others, or even hate we tend like a furnace towards a particular group - deep down we know that a body is a body is a body - and that ours is no more indestructible than another.
We know we are not some special snowflake that could withstand a bomb, a terrorist, a plane crash.
So we read a news story, digest the available details, and then attempt to resume our lives.
But then more details emerge.
Faces, places, ages, occupations. Dammit, now those who perished begin to take a real form. They are no longer just figures in an overall tally of death. They are mothers holding babies, like Maria Bandres and her son, Julian. Students wearing ipods. Husbands newly married.
It becomes more uncomfortable to think about because they look like us. They lived like us. The unease we feel we attempt to assuage with mental platitudes like, "They are in Heaven." "They died instantly."
But then more details emerge.
In this instance, what began as a tragic plane crash - one where a mechanical issue could be accepted; one in which an explosion onboard would be tragic yet within our ability to process - has begun to appear to be intentional. A suicide by copilot with a side order of mass murder. A single person who decided to die, not caring that he was sentencing 149 others to join him.
This is where our ability to comprehend stops. At least for most of us.
Our deep humanity, our inherent decency, our lust for life, our love of family, our respect for others simply cannot comprehend an act that reeks of a selfishness so complete, so heinous, so devoid of compassion.
The details that continue to emerge hint at a young person - only 27 - with a history of some level of depressive periods - committing a horrific crime of opportunity. Knowing that a recording exists of the pilot frantically trying to re-enter the cockpit, only to have the same recording also indicate the co-pilot made no sound, other than his breathing while directing the plane downward - is almost more than can we can bear.
Add to this the information that screaming can be heard from passengers. They knew, if only briefly that their deaths were imminent.
For me, this annihilates the comfort I initially tried to take in telling myself, perhaps they had no clue, hopefully they never knew what happened.
That death was instantaneous is not in dispute. The complete obliteration of the aircraft and its occupants is obvious. The recovery of human remains is simply what remains of the humans. There are no complete bodies, not even close.
And again, we are left unable to comprehend a decision so devoid of care for others, a deed so completely, heinously complete.
I simply cannot fathom being a family member. There are no answers that will come that will provide an "ah ha!" moment in this. No informational absolution. No true emotional closure.
Some may try to shield themselves from the reality by drawing their faith around them like a blanket. Some may redirect their agony into activism. Others may take this pain, this anger to their own graves.
But the one thing that simply will never happen for them, for us, for every decent person who looks at another human being with respect and recognition of a mirror image - is comprehension.
And perhaps, in that inability is a tiny seed of hope. For if we cannot comprehend an evil so complete, it means we are so very unlike it, and more connected to a world full of others who cannot comprehend it, than we know.