Jan 302011
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This was a really good day. Slept in and had a morning cuddle with my guy, played with my puppy, went out to run some errands, had nummity Five Guys for lunch, did some more errandy things, nearly burned down my house, tried a new recipe that didn’t suck, played some more Rock Band Network, and still was able to feel relaxed and pretty well-rested. Even the near disaster with the dryer didn’t blip my day. Nice change.

The Challenger disaster occurred 25 years ago today. It’s been at the back of my head all day, and in ways beyond making me feel tremendously old.

I remember Challenger. I was in fifth grade at the time. We watched it live. I remember how excited we were – I was. These days shuttle launches lack a lot of attention and excitement; they’re practically routine. But this is 1986, and we weren’t there yet.

We watched it blow up.

I wish I could say more how I felt when it happened. The whole thing seemed so unreal. I remember a lot of talking about it afterward, but I don’t remember needing much talking to myself. Oddly enough, I think what I most carried away from Challenger were life lessons that really had nothing at all to do with Challenger.

My first lesson regarded news media. As you might imagine, this was huge news, and everyone was talking about it. They talked a lot. But even more was the looping video. Over and over that night they played the video of the shuttle breaking apart. They’d talk, then they’d play the tape, then they’d talk a little bit more before finding some reason to go back to the tape again. I must’ve seen Challenger fall apart over a hundred times that day. I remember asking why they kept showing it again and again and never really getting an answer. I learned something that day about the news not really being interested in much that had to do with actual people with actual feelings.

My second lesson regarded a friend of mine. We were close – about as close as you can reasonably expect to be with somebody at that age anyway. She wanted to be an astronaut. She was going to be an astronaut. It was practically all she ever talked about. Until we watched Challenger disintegrate. The next day, she was no longer going to be an astronaut. This never sat right with me. How could you give up a lifelong dream like that? Okay our lives were all of about ten years long at that point, but still. This was it, you know? She was going to be an astronaut, and I believed her. Until it became too hard or too dangerous, then she quit, just like that. I came to learn that a dream is only worth what you’re willing to put into it (and that respect for a person can be a tenuous thing).

My third lesson was an odd one, but has perhaps been the most useful. A week after Challenger, maybe less, and I was in the cafeteria line at lunch. Some kids in line head of us were telling a joke they’d heard: “Hey, what does NASA stand for? Need Another Seven Astronauts.” I laughed. I laughed hard. Then I felt like shit for it. This was a terrible event and that was a terrible joke and I’m a terrible person but dammit I’m still laughing. I learned about black humour that day, and how even when the most horrible things happen, it’s still okay to laugh. We’re complex creatures and just because we react to something one way doesn’t mean it’s the only way we can react to it.

All this time later and I’m still learning. It was only in the last few years that I learned how the shuttle crew likely survived the disintegration. And that there’s a very high probability they were alive up until, or very nearly until, the point the shuttle crashed into the ocean – a good two and a half minutes after it broke apart. I don’t know how they handled that impossible situation. I can’t imagine it. None of us can. But I see the pictures of them just before their flight, and I’m deciding they met their fate doing what they loved and thus greeted it bravely. I like to think should I ever find myself in an impossible situation, that I’ve also learned how to be that brave.

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