‘Pan-Am Flight 103 has exploded’… the unthinkable slowly expanded, filling not only our minds but every nerve and cell of our bodies… That’s Helga’s flight.
For us Christmas 1988 has become the watershed which separates all the events and memories of our lives. The first emotion I remember as I turned on the TV at 9pm on 21 December was one of sympathy, for the passengers, crew, and the people of the small Scottish town of Lockerbie. My sixteen-year-old son, Marcus, sat on the sofa while Lisa, my wife, perched on the arm and I stood beside her. “The poor people!” I remember someone saying. Then they began to give details – “Pan-Am flight 103, flying from London to New York, has exploded above the Scottish border at about three minutes past seven.”
“That’s Helga’s flight!” burst from Lisa’s lips. Even though I had checked her luggage in at the Pan-Am desk only a few hours earlier, the possibility of such a thing happening to our daughter just hadn’t crossed my mind. These things happen to others; we are normally observers of other people’s tragedies. You can imagine the stunned silence which followed as the unthinkable slowly expanded, filling not only our minds but every nerve and cell of our bodies.
“No! No! No! No!” broke the silence as Marcus screamed at the screen. “Helga, Helga, Helga” quietly, almost silently, managed to escape from somewhere deep-down inside my wife. I stood as if dumb; my tongue unable to articulate at all.
By day two there were already rumours that a terrorist bomb might have been the cause of the disaster and some of the relatives were howling for blood. When one early interviewer asked how we felt about it we said that we readily forgave whoever was responsible. “How can you forgive animals like that?” was the interviewer’s response. While I was trying to formulate a reply Lisa cut in. “Well, sir, Jesus said that if we don’t forgive those who hurt us God will not forgive us. We are also sinners and are trusting God for forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ. Sir, we just dare not play such foolish games as not forgiving.”
I was still wondering at my wife’s answer when he shot another question at me. “Has this not destroyed your faith?” To this day I am amazed at how readily the words came and how inspired they were. “Well,” I said, “This is where we prove whether what we have preached and said we believed for most of our lives is real, or whether it is just a game.”
During the past twenty-two years we have found the grace and love of God and the strength that he gives to be more real than we had ever dared believe.