"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Saturday, January 28, 2006
trag-e-dy Function: noun Etymology: Middle English tragedie, from Middle French, from Latin tragoedia, from Greek tragOidia, from tragos goat (akin to Greek trOgein to gnaw) + aeidein to sing -1 : a serious drama typically describing a conflict between the protagonist and a superior force (as destiny) and having a sorrowful or disastrous conclusion that excites pity or terror 2 : a disastrous event : CALAMITY 3 : Twenty years ago, today
I stood in the parking lot, crying, and I didn't care that I was wearing a suit and tie, and that people would see me.
Sometimes, things like that aren't important at all, you know.
It was hot, it was always hot in Ocala, Florida. Or at least it seemed like it was to me, since I had lived most of my life hundreds of miles north of there. Ocala was a place that was right on the line between temperate and tropical. They had maybe one or two frosts a year. Even so, a day in January could be pretty warm.
And it was crystal clear sunny too.
Which made things so much worse. And I'm not talking about the heat, either.
Only minutes before, I had walked into a print shop to have some copies made of something or other. I was working as a travel agent. The clerk took my job and started working on it, while I idly watched the television that they had on the sales counter. The place was pretty busy, but my copies would only take a couple of minutes.
I am sure my mind must have been filled with my everyday urgencies. Who had I sold airline tickets to that morning. Who was picking up cruise tickets that afternoon. Who did I need to call about boarding passes. What was for dinner.
So, at first the TV was just so much white noise. I was looking at it, but was a million miles away. They were launching the shuttle, something that in Florida felt like an everyday occurrence. So my mind stayed on autopilot, ignoring the very normal and routine images that were passing through it.
But then, but then...there was something very not normal, very not routine. The image looked wrong, it billowed out and two huge streamers raced out in front, and pieces seemed to be arcing down.
I had just...I had just seen the shuttle explode. When you are faced with moments like these, your mind takes a moment to fully grasp it. Well, at least mine does.
The print shop clerk walked by. "Hey, I think the shuttle just blew up," I said.
"Hmmph." He glanced at the screen and walked off, completely not interested in something so far beyond his experience. Somehow I felt angry, at the time, that a person could feel so cold about such a thing. Now I just pity those people.
I stayed glued to the little television until my job was ready, then headed out to watch it at home during lunch. There are some moments that burn themselves into your mind, and they will be there until the day you die, just as vivid as when you first lived them.
Unfortunately, some of those moments are unbearably tragic.
As I stood there at my car, tears running down my face, I knew this was one of them. Because up in the sky, right there, was that awful scorpion shaped explosion cloud that you are so familiar with.
To me, it was no picture. I was there.
Now, in reality I was probably 200 miles from the cloud. But it was very clear, and looked very close.
When I regained my composure I went home.
My daughter was in second grade. Because of the teacher aspect of this flight, almost every grade school student in the country was watching when it happened. At no moment were more young eyes trained on a spacecraft launch than that instant. Each and every one was wrenched a little bit more towards being an adult that day.
I remember when I was very small, maybe three (believe it or not) and another kid and I were looking at a bee in a clover patch at my feet. I had never seen a bee before, but here was a neat little buzzy fuzzy thing, and the other kid said I should pick it up. So of course I did.
In a small way, I think I experienced a bit of what those school children went through. That realization in your mind that this is not what you signed up for. That life is not supposed to work in this way.
So here we are, twenty years and yet another shuttle calamity later. And what is the real lesson of the Challenger?
Sure, there's bravery and honor and all the other stuff. That's a given. But I think there is a deeper lesson.
Once there was a frog, and it went to swim across a river. On the bank, there was a scorpion.
"Mr. Frog," said the scorpion. "Would you be so kind as to let me ride across the river on your back?"
"Gracious no!" said the frog. "You will sting me and I will die!"
"Why would I do such a thing?" said the scorpion. "If I did so, then I would also die!"
"Well," said the frog, reflecting on this a moment. "I guess you are right. So hop on and lets go."
The scorpion crawled onto the frog, and the frog struck out for the far side of the river. The river was flowing very fast, but the frog was a superb swimmer. The scorpion held on tightly.
And, just when they reached the very middle of the river, the scorpion raised its stinger, and plunged it down into the frog.
"Why have you done such a thing!" cried the frog as it drowned. "Now both of us will die!"
"Yes we will. But to do this is the nature of a scorpion."
The lesson, as I see it, is this. It is not always our destiny to make it across the river. Sometimes there will be a scorpion. And then, whether we deserve it or not, that scorpion will do what it is in his nature to do.
Our spirits cry out against such injustice, and this is right and true. But sometimes, the scorpion bites.
Why? Because it does, and that's the only reason we can see in this life.
So what is our response to be?
If we are the ones struggling, assuming we survive, our course is now to try even harder, to overcome, to reinvent, regenerate, heal stronger than before.
If we mourn others who the scorpion has claimed, our actions are to honor them, celebrate their victories, and enshrine their best qualities so that we can all learn from the light they will continue to shed on our world. And today, twenty years later, that is what I am doing with those valiant astronauts.
Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy. F. Scott Fitzgerald