This past year has presented drastic changes to life as we know it. It has been traumatic. What we still don’t know is when this will all end. Thinking about the current state of life living amidst the pandemic can bring one to wonder what it will be like on the other side. What will it be like when and (now more likely than not with so many healthcare advances in fighting COVID-19 including most importantly the vaccines) if we survive the pandemic? In search of answers, I am examining hijacking survivors’ perspectives to see how they made it through, recognizing the categorization of the pandemic trauma as a “near miss,” and looking to avenues of healing from the pandemic.
First, the argument can be made that the pandemic hijacked our lives. Life was rolling along at the beginning of last year within the norms that we were accustomed to when – that all ended. Imagine we were seated in an airplane thousands of miles above the Earth living life as usual in March 2020 when we heard the announcement that this plane is being hijacked. All those months starting from March 2020 were like months inside that hijacked airplane, not knowing whether or when the pandemic emergency would end. And more seriously, when and if COVID-19 would strike close to home or in our home. Would COVID-19 take the plane down? Thankfully, with the incredible efforts of the scientific community, the vaccine has arrived, and it is as if the plane has at least been landed, albeit with the hijacker still in the cockpit. Right now, we sit as passengers in the plane waiting and wondering. Will this standoff with COVID-19 end peacefully with all passengers of the world receiving the vaccine in time? Or will there be a horrible situation arising with the variants leading to further deaths for the passengers aboard?
Seeking a survivor’s perspective, I thought about my father-in-law, Alphonse Mikhail. He experienced an eleven hour hijacking aboard Lufthansa Flight 592 in 1993 and survived. No one aboard was physically harmed, but I wonder how that experience affected every survivor mentally, what it was like during the hijacking, and how that experience can apply to all of our experiences surviving the pandemic. He has spoken about the event briefly over the course of my years knowing him. With the knowledge he has shared, I started researching the hijacking. Many articles were written about the incident at the time it occurred. One in particular was fascinating because it was written by a now famous author, but at the time in 1993, probably an on-the-beat reporter for the Washington Post, Malcolm Gladwell.
Mr. Gladwell’s article provides insights into the chain of actions that took place that day. Malcolm Gladwell. “11-HOUR HIJACKING ENDS IN SURRENDER AT NEW YORK AIRPORT.” Dated February 12, 1993, available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1993/02/12/11-hour-hijacking-ends-in-surrender-at-new-york-airport/ab517dab-6f76-4371-89ef-5497e2ca312f. This detailed account of what transpired is helpful to understanding what occurred. It provides insight into the cabin and what the emotional well-being of the passengers was like at the time. His accounting includes the following:
“Several passengers described the scene in the plane as remarkably calm during the trip that included a stop in Hanover, Germany, where the plane was refueled before an eight-hour flight to New York. They said emotions occasionally ran high.”
Not many articles have been done as a follow up to the hijacking of Lufthansa flight 592. One was done in 2000 following the hijacking of another plane. Sally Weale. “’Ladies and gentleman, there’s a young man on board who has a gun pointed at my head’” Dated February 8, 2000, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2000/feb/08/stansted.theairlineindustry
The reporter interviewed Reverend Timothy Kinahan, a protestant minister from Belfast:
“In Kinahan’s case, there were no shots fired, no passengers killed, no tricky demands for the release of political prisoners. But for 11 hours, he didn’t know if he would live or die. He didn’t know if he would ever see his wife and child again…Kinahan, 46, rector of St. Dorothea’s Church, was on his way to visit an orphanage in Ethiopia with three members of his congregation. They had boarded flight LH592, a Lufthansa Airbus, in Frankfurt and were bound for Addis Ababa via Cairo…”It was scary,” Kinahan recalled… “We were stunned. There was no panic. There was no screaming, no abject terror. I can remember some tears in the beginning, but our anxiety was not for ourselves, but for those we would leave behind…We didn’t talk very much for an hour. Then we began to relax quite a bit when nothing happened. There was a great mutual support. At least we did not have crazy gunmen running up and down the aisles threatening us.”
What is fascinating is that my father-in-law survived the flight praying with other passengers including with a priest who most probably is Reverand Kinahan. His description of the event in the past has always included that there was a priest on board going on a mission trip. They along with others prayed together in the back of the plane. I was always struck by this image of a group huddling together physically and mentally in prayer for protection. God’s deliverance and the power of prayer provided the group with strength during the eleven hour hijacking.
In light of the idea of the pandemic hijacking, I recently asked my father-in-law again about his experience. He explained that a priest was seated in front of him and another priest was seated behind him and to the side. Once they were finished refueling and took off from Hanburg, they didn’t know where they were going. The moment they took off, he and a group of ten people began, “holding hands together in a circle and praying.” They didn’t have a Bible, but instead took turns praying out loud in the circle.
My father-in-law has always had a peace-filled demeanor, and I wondered if this experience gave him even more faith in God. He explained that during the hijacking he always trusted in God and that he felt he was in good hands whatever happened. He was not afraid. He knew the flight could come down. He put all his trust in God. He said it gave him peace of mind to put it all to God.
He also talked with other passengers while the ordeal was happening. They tried to figure out if the gunman had a partner on the plane. They knew where he had been seated and looked around for a partner. Not finding anyone, and realizing that the hijacker was acting alone gave him as well as other passengers a little confidence that he was not with a group.
After the plane landed in New York, I learned from various articles that they had to endure the FBI storming the plane and safely extricating the hijacker. Once everyone was safe, the airline offered to continue to fly the passengers to their destinations. I wondered how Alphonse decided what to do next. After going through the whole hijacking, he chose to continue on to his destination of Cairo for his nephew’s graduation. He could have been flown from New York to home in Chicago, but chose to “keep going.” He said, “You cannot live in fear. You ruin yourself.”
Next, having recognized this pandemic hijacking as a traumatic event, I have wondered whether we as individuals going through the pandemic would be considered “near misses” or “remote misses.” A Canadian psychiatrist, J.T. MacCurdy, first wrote about varying mental health states induced by experiencing traumatic events in his book, “The Structure of Morale.” He categorized those involved as “direct hits,” “near misses,” and “remote misses.” He specifically looked at the survivors in London of the Blitz during World War II. I first learned these concepts from reading a book written by Malcolm Gladwell, later in his now highly-acclaimed career. His book, “David and Goliath,” explores this concept of “remote misses,” in a way that is easily understood. More recently, Ahmad Mourad, MD, explored this concept of “near misses” in relation to COVID-19. Ahmad Mourad, MD. “The Remote Misses of COVID-19.” American College of Physicians Public Health Emergency Collection. Ann Intern Med. 2020 Aug 19 : M20-4984. Dated August 19, 2020, available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7453580/
Specifically, Dr. Mourad states:
“Exploring historical examples of population-wide responses to other large-scale, traumatic events may offer useful insights. In London during the 1940s, the populace was bracing for the devastation from German bombings. In addition to physical damage, physicians were also anticipating significant psychological damage to those living through the destruction. Several hospitals planned to increase their capacities to manage the psychological effects of war. However, most of London’s citizens did not experience the expected paralyzing effects of combat stress. Are we seeing a similar phenomenon among Americans today during the COVID-19 pandemic?”
To understand the groups after a traumatic event as categorized by Dr. MacCurdy the following are definitions provided by Dr. Mourad:
“1. Direct hits: those who suffer direct injury, leading to their death or incapacitation. This group cannot communicate their experiences or instill fear in the population. In MacCurdy’s words, “The morale of the community depends on the reaction of the survivors, and corpses do not run about spreading panic.”
2. Near misses: those who feel but are not debilitated by a physical effect, or those who witness the death of others. These persons “feel the blast, see the destruction but they survive, deeply impressed.”
3. Remote misses: those who see or hear the traumatic event and witness some of the aftermath but evade physical or emotional harm.””
Dr. Mourad argues that many Americans are exhibiting behaviors that indicate being in the category of “remote miss,” but that we all need to be in the category of “near miss,” to fully feel the effects of the pandemic. I agree, and I would argue that all people who have gone through the trauma of the pandemic hijacking our lives would fall into the category of “near miss” just as the survivors of the Lufthansa flight 592 that my father-in-law was on would be categorized as “near miss” survivors. Every human on Earth alive at the time of the pandemic start in March 2020 was a passenger in the cabin. We all heard the announcement of the hijacking in different ways, but we have all been through this together. Recognizing this will validate this traumatic experience and provide avenues toward healing.
Finally, steps to consider when looking for avenues of healing can be found with prayer journaling, well-being coping mechanisms, including regular movement and good food choices, and also seeking professional mental health treatment to address and work through the detrimental effects of this time. Taking the time to explore well-being practices is key to healing from this experience and an integral goal of keen living. Here are some examples of ways to find healing amidst the pandemic:
The need to turn to prayer during this experience is the greatest impression that I have after considering my father-in-law’s experience aboard a hijacked plane. His statement that fear will ruin you is powerful. What a great lesson to take away from the experience of the pandemic as well. Do not live in fear. Running away from the situation and avoiding God’s power is futile. Prayer journaling provides a concrete way to put thoughts on paper while contemplating the word of God. Whatever your religious background is, going to the word of God is helpful. Sitting in contemplation of verses of God’s word and putting thoughts and prayers to paper is grounding. Feeling the ground underneath us right now and a sense of certainty after experiencing the pandemic hijacking is important. There is a real need for certainty and less fear in our world. Placing time in God’s hands every day can lead to a peace-filled practice of prayer journaling.
This is a great avenue toward healing and my favorite weapon to fight against the weight and disarray caused by the pandemic: movement. It is powerful to get into nature and feel small yet nimble and able to move through the world under the power of your own accord. Any physical activity is beneficial.
My greatest recommendation is to go outside every day, walk or run, and sweat. Getting a good sweat has a great ripple effect. In these days of being at home, any reason to take a shower, shampoo your hair (I mean really shampoo, not just dry shampoo), and get dressed in clothes that do not involve lounging, e.g. yoga pants, sweat shirts, etc., is a good reason to do so. https://megandaviamikhail.com/2020/03/27/attorney-well-being-ways-we-can-maintain-well-being-while-sheltering-at-home/
Surrender for a Sense of Peace
When I can take a deep breath, recognize the stress, and surrender to the fact that I am trapped to a degree, I feel better. I can accept the restrictions and move through them. For example, at times while I am home schooling my children, I have thought of the time I was able to spend completely focused on my writing. It initially frustrated me that I cannot research, write, revise, or do anything else professionally for long durations. But now that I have surrendered myself to this moment in time, to teaching my children, to creating a home where my children, my husband, and I feel comfort, security, and love amidst this outer world of death, fear, and stress, I am more peace-filled. Peace is the goal of grief processing I believe. Whether we are talking about grieving the death of a loved one or grieving the loss of a job, a sense of physical freedom, or the loss of hugging our friends, when we come to a feeling of peace about any of those losses, we have achieved something. We have satisfied an inner need for peace. https://megandaviamikhail.com/2020/04/04/attorney-well-being-surrender/
Give Yourself Grace
If you are not as productive as you dreamed you’d be at this time, take a deep breathe, and give yourself grace. Make a plan. Take out your calendar and schedule time. Time is what we have now. If you are not as organized at this time, take a deep breathe, and give yourself grace. Read an article on organizing. Take one piece of advice and do it. If you are not as upbeat at this time, take a deep breathe, and give yourself grace. Smile. Talk with a friend or family member. Your mood will lift. This time will lift. These restrictions will lift. Our lives will lift. We will be back to life as we knew it again. But how will we change our lives? Will we go back fully? Or will we bring grace with us? https://megandaviamikhail.com/2020/04/17/attorney-well-being-give-grace/
Overall, we all need these avenues toward healing. Motivational mechanisms help us to survive and thrive in this time of our lives. We have to recognize the situation and seek guidance from others who have survived similar situations. We can make it to the other side of this together recognizing that we have been in a “near miss” and need coping mechanisms to feel back to ourselves.
© 2021 Megan Davia Mikhail