Memories of Lockerbie Untainted by a Killer's Act

Lockerbie, Scotland was my Brigadoon. A dear friend from Wales and I were driving north to Edinburgh when we encountered heavy fog. As she was doing all the driving, I was quick to agree when she suggested we stop in the next town we came across to spend the night and allow the thick fog to dissipate. We drove slowly around a bend in the road and there was the lovely little town called Lockerbie. It was 1982 and I had never heard of it before. But we found a cheap B&B and headed off to the local pub for a few pints. The locals were welcoming of two young women -- one from the States and one from South Wales -- buying us drinks and challenging us to darts. It was a memorable evening that quickly faded away. Until one day I heard on the evening news that a Pan Am jet had exploded over the town of Lockerbie. My harbor from the storm had become the epicenter of a tempest.

This past weekend, my teenage daughter and I were seated in the Portland, Maine jetport waiting for our delayed flight back to Virginia after a blissful week in coastal Maine. The TV in the waiting area was tuned to CNN but with the sound turned down. She asked why crowds were jubilantly celebrating the arrival of a frail man walking down the steps of a plane. Suddenly images of Lockerbie flooded back -- with images of destruction. I recalled the fuselage lying in a field, airline seats and luggage scattered across the town, grieving relatives waiting at JFK. How to explain to my daughter that a man convicted of murdering hundreds of innocent people was being hailed as a hero in his native Libya?

It is impossible to reconcile my memory of a bucolic little Scottish town with the searing images of a passenger jet brought down by evil onto the rooftops of that very place. It is even harder to see the only person convicted of it embraced by so many. So often one event can eclipse another, with the most horrific dominating. But there is also karma. Lockerbie was and is more than the site of a tragedy. And the hero's welcome will quickly devolve into a hellish descent into the final stages of terminal cancer for Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi. Memories remain for all of those who lost loved ones on the plane; hopefully they hold onto the beautiful ones. I choose to remember Lockerbie as I saw it emerging from the fog -- a town like many in Scotland, with arms wide open. Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, guilty or innocent, has only weeks to sift through his own memories. We must trust that they, too, are part of his punishment.