A 15-year-old boy made headlines last week by hiding in the wheel well of an airplane and surviving the 5 hour flight from California to Hawaii. As I was reading this incredible story, I could almost hear the twangy refrain of Jed Clampett from the 70’s TV series Beverly Hillibillies, in search of the ultimate lifestyle:
“So they loaded up the truck
And they moved to Beverly.
Hills that is, Swimming pools! Movie stars!” 
I was trying to wrap my brain around what about this teenager’s Californian life-in-paradise would motivate him to risk his life (less than a quarter of people who have ever flown in a wheel well have ever survived according to the FAA) in search of an upgrade from California dream living to a Hawaiian haven. Talk about first world problems!
Turns out, it wasn’t really a first world problem.
The juvenile stowaway is an African immigrant. Details and speculations are emerging, such as the fact that this quiet young man has had a rough go of it over the past 3 years trying to assimilate to life in the U.S. with his Dad and step-Mom. Frequent “run-ins” with other students in class which resulted in a school transfer, a Dad who drives a cab for a living in San Jose, and the stigma of being “just another one” of the countless immigrants here to ferry us from the airports to our homes, work and leisure.
It sounds to me like he was so tired, yearning to breathe free, that he took to the skies with a hope and a prayer of escaping a life teeming with struggle, loneliness and likely humiliation.
Didn’t he have any idea that most people would say he was already living in paradise and didn’t even realize it? I’ve spent a good part of my life in the third world being harangued by erstwhile youths hoping I could be their “ticket” to the Promised Land. Some are just media-saturated pleasure seekers who think the U.S. is a mix of Baywatch babes and Fast and Furious excitement; others are sincere seekers hoping for a better life in a land that has always been famous for opportunity.
Since its discovery, America has been the haven for masses of immigrants seeking a better life. The promise of freedom—political, religious, and financial—has made the U.S. the primo destination of choice. As Emma Lazarus’s famous poem at Ellis Island so poignantly proclaims,
“Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
And this kid risks life and limb to find a better beach?
Well, actually no.
The odds-defying high schooler was, apparently, not headed for Hawaii, but actually trying to get back to Somalia to visit his mother.
This real life story ought to shatter each and every one of us to our core. It embodies perfectly what I so often, and poorly, try to express to the children and youth of the world in response to their needy requests for asylum in a far away “paradise.” This young boy’s desperate attempt to fly to love instantly nullifies any delusional construct that what we have to offer in the material West is the hope of humanity and the solution to life’s injustices.
The world is not as it seems. The mirage of Beverly Hills mansions and Hawaiian beaches are as illusionary as our fabricated assumptions that the rest of the world is miserable because they don’t have the opportunities afforded us.
A young highflying Somalian was miraculously spared to remind us all that the greatest human need is love.