Saturday, February 01, 2003

On the news today are constant reports of the fate of the space shuttle Columbia. I've never been a big space enthusiast, which is another of those things that makes me kind of provincial, I guess. I prefer to keep both feet firmly planted on Earth. But it's hard to look at those seven proud, smiling faces - all around my age - and not feel sadness and empathy, about both the loss of life, and the end of someone's dream. Maybe it was not my dream, but it was a grand dream, nonetheless, one that involved a lot of commitment and hard work. May they rest in peace.

Recently there has been much coverage of the Challenger tragedy because the anniversary just passed. I was thinking about what I was doing that day, and I remembered that I was working at the NYS Office for Aging. I was a clerk in the Budget Services office. Did I imagine that in 17 years I would be teaching at a college, and my PhD would be nearly three years old? Well, I guess it was a dream, but at that time it seemed almost unattainable. There was no television in the office, but we listened to the coverage on a colleague's radio. I remember how awful it seemed, a teacher waving goodbye minutes before the explosion. I thought of the many school children who were watching, how that horrific image would forever be etched into those kids' brains.

I was not quite 8 years old when we (allegedly, if you believe that Fox show from last year) landed on the moon. Space was a big focus in school. Now I know that was because of Sputnik, but I think another reason is that it did capture the imagination. I drew pictures of the event over and over again, cartoon images of Neil Armstrong jumping around near the lunar module. I used my sketch books, or sometimes those reusable palettes - they were made of a waxy black cardboard, with a filmy sheet attached, and you wrote with a red plastic stick, kind of like a pencil without lead. When you were done, you could erase it by ripping the film up. I can't remember what they were called, and I don't know if they are still sold.

But even considering the numerous pictures I drew, I wasn't as entranced with the space hoopla as many kids, either because even then I was provincial, or because I preferred English, history, art, and math over science (although I hasten to add that I much preferred science over gym).

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