You Don't Know Me

A New York Times article on the recent Germanwings crash described the co-pilot Andreas Lubitz as someone who had "identified as a flier" since at least the age of 14. In trying to make sense of the tragedy in the Alps, we look for clues about the motives of this man who took 149 people (who did not wish to die) on his final flight. That he had "identified as a flier" for half his life suggests how devastated he must have been to learn about medical conditions which would prevent him from fully inhabiting that identity.
Deer in the headlights, or headlights in the deer? 

The same day I read the Times story I read an article in the often interesting Aeon Magazine about the loss of identity in people with dementia. The difference between the people described in this article and the late Mr. Lubitz is that beyond a certain point people with dementia are not aware of what they have lost. There has to be a stage, though, as there was for the Alice character in Still Alice, when one recognizes that s/he is about to lose that which s/he has thought of as herself.  A bleak, lonely and unsettling moment, surely.

Yet we get these experiences in small doses all the time. Even something as mundane as the flu can inspire a comment like, "I haven't been feeling like myself all week." Serious illness wreaks deeper, more lasting changes. The formerly capable and energetic must accept a view of themselves as dependent, sick, handicapped. A hard bridge to cross. "I didn't used to be this way." Grief, too, provokes deep questions about identity. The death of a parent at any age means the definite end of childhood. I've heard fifty year olds say they feel like orphans after an aged parent dies. But most people move through this transition and consciously or unconsciously incorporate their experiences into a new sense of self, like another layer of paint. Nostalgically or not, they refer to a time when they were different, before I was sick or before so and so died, or when I was young. When I played professional sports. When I was a dancer, before my knees went. Personal identity is not static despite birth certificates on which are printed names we probably keep for a lifetime, and that we can't change where we were born or who are parents were. Of course if we really wanted to, we could change our names, even our genders.

Assuming the theories about the motives of the Germanwing co-pilot are valid, it must be that Lubitz could not see the potential of a new identity. If he couldn't be all he imagined himself to be, he didn't want to be at all. Nobody knew that about him. Sympathies to all those who loved the victims.