Tag Archive | "Shangri-La"

In Search of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370

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Interrupting the news of the crisis in the Ukraine, global warming rearing its ugly head in the guise of the coldest North American winter in recent memory, the Chris Christie George Washington Bridge scandal, President Obama’s plummeting approval ratings, Jimmy Fallon taking the reins of the Tonight Show, and March Madness comes news of a mystery whose solution may require the talents of a Nero Wolfe or a Sherlock Holmes.  I speak, of course, of the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, an occurrence that has the world captivated in discussions of how and why a jumbo jetliner would vanish without a trace.


What actually happened to the airliner and its crew of 12 and 227 passengers?  The answer presently is that no one really knows.  Of course, if you watch, as do I, any of the cable news channels, there is no end to supposition and speculation as pilots – current and former, members of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and even airline passengers are trotted out by the media to present their “expert” opinions.  The theories run the gamut from terrorism to pilot error to aircraft failure to any other possible cause including alien abduction.


As in the disappearances of Amelia Earhart on her approach to Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean in 1937 and the five torpedo bombers designated as Flight 19 that vanished over the area of the Bermuda Triangle in 1945, we may never learn what became of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.  Once communication ceased, the aircraft may have flown for up to seven hours, and the area in which the plane may have crashed or left this dimension is three times the size of the Continental United States.


As one of the many of millions of people following this story, I have my own thoughts.  The disappearance of this plane reminds me of a movie produced in 1939 entitled Lost Horizon.  The story focuses on an English soldier and diplomat, Robert Conway portrayed by Ronald Coleman, who was sent to China to rescue English citizens from the threat of Chinese warlords.  The plane carrying Conway is hijacked, unbeknownst to its passengers, by a mysterious Mongol pilot who makes one stop to refuel at a Tibetan village and then takes off and heads for the wild frontier of the Himalayan mountains.  The plane eventually runs out of fuel and crashes in the mountains amidst a wild snowstorm.  Everyone survived the crash with the exception of the pilot, and just when everything appeared hopeless for the survivors, a group of Tibetan natives led by a mysterious man named “Chang” arrives.  He informs the survivors that he is from a nearby lamasery and provides them with suitable clothing to make the treacherous and arduous journey back to the safety of the lamasery.


Reaching the entrance to the Valley of the Blue Moon, the survivors experience a remarkable change in weather as they enter the almost tropical climate enveloping the lamasery that is called Shangri-La.  Comparable to Heaven on Earth, Shangri-La was founded by a French missionary named Father Perrault who is proclaimed as the High Lama.  During Conway’s short stay, the High Lama tells him that he was brought there to be the Lama’s successor and carry on the mission of Shangri-La.  Conway’s younger brother, however, insists that they must return to civilization.  Reluctantly, Conway gives in to his brother and they leave the Valley.


During the ordeal Conway’s brother commits suicide, leaving Conway to battle his way to civilization. Upon reaching a small village and almost exhausted he collapses and is picked up by the natives who return him to health.  Conway continues on and eventually meets up with a search party sent to find him, although the ordeal has caused him to lose his memory of Shangri-La.  On the voyage back to England, he remembers everything; he tells his story and then jumps ship.  The searchers track him back to the Himalayas, but are unable to follow him any further.  Conway manages to return to Shangri-La and the emissaries sent to retrieve him return home to tell the strange tale.


Although this tale is a work of fiction, often truth is stranger and infinitely more baffling.  And so, here is my hope.  Perhaps, rather than resting at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, the passengers of that ill-fated aircraft, by some strange and miraculous intervention, have reached their Shangri-La and the prospects of the long and beautiful life of which we all dream.

In Search of Shangri-La

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In the early 1930’s, James Hilton wrote a novel entitled Lost Horizon, which prompted Hollywood to create a screenplay and resultant motion picture of the same name.

The story concerned a French missionary, Father Perrault.  In the 1700’s, the good father got lost and accidentally stumbled into the Valley of the Blue Moon, situated in the mountains of Tibet.  Surrounded by high mountain peaks and warmed by the sun, the valley was a Garden of Eden amidst the frozen wastelands of Tibet.  Here, with the help of the valley people, Father Perrault built the Lamasery of Shangri-La.  Much like the waters at Lourdes, France, the valley held mysterious powers to heal the sick and wounded, the aged, and those suffering in spirit.  Perrault discovered this firsthand, after having to amputate his frozen leg upon his arrival in the original camp.

Perrault’s dream was to collect the treasures of the world and keep them safe, in the Valley of the Blue Moon, for all posterity — or at least until the great storm racking the world was over.  He estimated that this would occur simultaneously with Jesus’ prophesy of the meek inheriting the earth.  Although Perrault lived for 300 years, thanks to the curative forces in the valley, he realized that his time on the earth was coming to an end.  Therefore, he required a predecessor who was wise in the ways of the world, to fulfill his dream.

Father Perrault selected Robert Conway, an English diplomat and soldier of fortune to carry on his work.  By nefarious means, Perrault brought his successor to Shangri-La.  The man of God arranged for Conway and his group to be hijacked by a Mongolian pilot.  Fleeing from war-torn China with his charges, the pilot crash-landed in the frozen wasteland of Tibet.  A monk from the Lamasery and his porters found the survivors.  After a long and arduous climb up the summit, the monk delivered them into Shangri-La.

In this land of long life and lifelong dreams, Conway and his group found real happiness. After meeting the High Lama (Perrault), the Englishman realized, incredulously, that Father Perrault, reported to have perished, was still alive after six centuries!  The High Lama revealed his plan to Conway, explaining why he was chosen to carry on his work.  However, everyone in the group was not happy staying in Tibet forever, despite the long lives and happiness they were promised (there’s just no pleasing some people).  Conway’s younger brother and a seemingly young female friend and postulant of the lamasery named Lo-Tsen convinced the soldier-of-fortune that he was just a victim of false stories.  Thus, they planned to leave the Valley of the Blue Moon, arranging for porters to bring them back to so-called civilization.

The trio left the valley on the eve of Father Perrault’s death and entered the frozen wastelands beyond the warmth and protection of Shangri-La.  As they could not keep pace with the porters, they soon became lost in the blinding snow and perilous cold.  Lo-Tsen died of old age (the penalty for leaving Shangri-La).  When Conway’s brother went mad and jumped off a cliff, the Englishman struggled alone to recapture the civilization that he once knew.

After many days, he stumbled into a native village.  From there, word reached London that Conway had been found after one year of having gone missing. London dispatched an emissary to bring him home but Conway rejected the offer and waned to return to Shangri-La.  After a wild turn of events, Conway disappeared over a mountain pass, never to be seen again.

The emissary returned to London and told the story that Conway revealed to him.  The book ends when someone asks, “Do you really believe the story you heard?” — to which the man answered, “I believe it because I want to believe it!”  Raising his glass, he toasted Robert Conway and his quest to find Shangri-La.

Although this is, for the most part, a heartwarming tale, it is a work of pure fiction.  Every one of us dreams of a fabled land of milk and honey, in which we can grow old in peace and harmony with our fellow human beings.  Down through the ages humanity has sought Shangri-La, each in our own way.  Some of us dreamed of flying.  Perhaps we thought we would locate heaven on earth from the skies above us.   The Greek god Pegasus had wings and could fly, but Icarus of Greek legend was a mere mortal and as such, was denied the same right (his waxen wings melted when he flew too close to the sun).  Centuries after Icarus allegedly fell into the sea, that fine Italian genius, Leonardo DaVinci, dreamed of flying ships to transport mankind, creating mathematically precise drawings of what he’d seen in his mind’s eye.  At the time, they were only dreams, but some centuries later, the Wright Brothers brought those dreams to reality at Kitty Hawk.

The moral of Lost Horizon, and the moral of turning dreams into reality, much like alchemists laboring to create gold from baser metals, is this:  how many times have we dreamed of realizing a goal, of living The Man of LaMancha’s “Impossible Dream,” and how many times have we never even tried to pursue our aspirations because we’ve allowed our fears to hold us in check?  We blame finances, family obligations, our jobs, and heck, some of us even blame God.  Naysayers also stand in our way, telling us out of jealousy or perhaps their own fears that we can’t do it.  We let them get to us; we absorb their words as truths and thus, we table our dreams.  With heavy hearts, we leave them behind.  But somehow, those dreams refuse to die.

They return to us in the middle of the night, when there is no good reason for us not to be sleeping through until morning. They return to us in the oddest places and at the most inconvenient times, for who wants to face a dream left buried instead of explored to its fullest potential?   We look back in lament, wondering what might have happened had we taken that walk on the proverbial high wire.  Yes, it’s risky out there alone on the wire.  We can get vertigo and wish to retreat back the way we came, to a safe place … always wondering what lay on the other side.

The secret to fulfilling our dreams can found in the last paragraph of the novel, Lost Horizon.  It can also be found as the premise to the old Kevin Costner film, Field of Dreams (“If you build it, they will come.”).  Reams and reams of information have been written on this subject; they fill the shelves of libraries and book stores, and the most popular treatise currently may be The Secret … which is really no secret!  If you believe that you can achieve something, you have actually altered your brain chemistry to a certain degree.  You’ve armed yourself with a dream and if it means that much to you, and if you believe it, you will find a way to make it come true!

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