Reminders of How Small We Are: MH370 and Justin Casquejo

You can bet that there will be a movie made about 16-year-old Justin Casquejo. When the kid from Weehawken, New Jersey (the town where Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton dueled to the death), got to the top of the unopened 1 World Trade Center in order to take photos to post to Twitter, he was following an impulse that in other times made people conquer mountains and rivers, doing the impossible for the first time. Imagine the view he had, alone, at the very end of night, at the very beginning of sunrise, on top of the tallest building in the country. He also demonstrated, probably unwittingly, just how tenuous, how permeable, how human our belief in security is.

If you've been to the 9/11 Memorial, you know that you have to pass through ridiculous levels of security. If you came in from New Jersey on the PATH train, you no doubt walked past soldiers armed with rifles. You had to get your ticket in advance in order for someone to check if your name is on any watch list. You had to go through a metal detector and a possible pat-down. While you were walking around the cascading pools, you couldn't help but see all the guards and police. This place, you are shown in absolutely certain terms, will not be attacked again, at least not by someone on foot. Apparently, though, not so much for the construction site that's still up around the nearly-complete skyscraper.

Often we must learn a simple lesson through violence - that schools aren't built to prevent shootings, that airplanes can be taken over with razor blades - and then we react and believe we have come up with a way to keep us safe. But, as further violence demonstrates, that safety, security in a larger sense, is a lie.

What Justin Casquejo did in the innocent, adolescent, brave, and stupid act of sneaking through a fence was to show us how meaningless our security apparatus is, how we've given over so much of our freedom to a fraud, to a thin veneer of protection that was punctured by a kid with a camera. It was, in its way, the gentlest act of terrorism one could commit. We are one sleeping guard away from anarchy. And it should be humbling not just to those who are supposed to keep us safe, but to all of us. By scaling the tower, Casquejo brought us to earth.

An even greater humbling is occurring in the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. It is, without a doubt, an unendurably awful vigil for the families of the 239 passengers and crew. Putting aside the ghoulish news network coverage of the search, let us instead see the inability to find a large jet plane as a moment for sublime wonder along with the very real suffering of very real people. The loss of a plane filled with electronics and devices that are supposed to make it near-impossible to lose is another kind of humbling, another demonstration of our limits.

We live, we are told, in a shrinking world, a world where data and technology are erasing old barriers to knowledge and to understanding, to the distance between people. But sometimes an event occurs that shows us just how huge and mysterious the planet actually is. In a time when Google Earth can let us see individual trees in an African jungle, when one can go thousands of miles in a few hours of flying, the fact that hundreds of people and a large object can disappear reinstills a long-gone sense of awe at the immensity of the world, especially of the oceans. Imagine this for a moment, too: We might not find Flight 370, perhaps not in our lifetimes, perhaps not ever, because the earth is just that big.

That's the takeaway from this: We still don't know what we're doing. It's the tragic and lovely thing about humans, that we often believe we have a grasp, that we have control, even when we have constant reminders that it's an illusion.