Friday, January 28, 2011

Heroes and Childhood

Well, I was going to wait until next week to start this, but today seems appropriate. I hope to spend a good bit of time over the next month talking about heroes.

Why, do you ask, do I want to do this? Well, there are so many different definitions for the word “hero”. There are big, monumental heroes, and every-day minor heroes and then everything else in between. I want to share some of the people I define as heroes as well as try and focus on something positive and good. I’ve been having a rough time, especially at work, lately and well, I think a nice big dose of positive will help. Also, it’s the middle of winter and we’ve been hit with several bouts of snow in recent weeks and something to take my mind off the weather and the gray would be nice.

Why today though? Why is today an appropriate day?

Well, this day in 1986 was an earth shattering day, especially in my recently-thrown-into-upheaval 10-year-old life. It was supposed to be a tremendous and exciting day. Not only was there going to be a launch of the space shuttle, but we were going to watch it in the library and they were launching a teacher into space! Yep, a teacher, a real human being, not some super human into space.

Just moments after launch, disaster struck. I was sitting in the back of the group watching, and couldn’t really see and I had no idea what was going on. It took me years to be able to actually watch the footage. I still try and avoid it whenever I can. This was an extremely traumatic event at an already traumatic and stressful time in my life. I was in my second school of the year and had just moved halfway across the country to what seemed like a foreign land.
So, why if I want to talk about something positive like heroes, to I start with the explosion of the Challenger and the loss of 7 lives? In my 10-year-old life, astronauts were heroes. They were larger than life. They got to be weightless and do cool things and see beautiful sites.
Anyone who knows me knows as a kid I was a real “space case”. I loved anything that flew and anything about space and space travel. I couldn’t get enough of it.  I even scrimped and saved and babysat every weekend I was asked to for one of the brattiest boys I knew so that I could go to Space Acadamy with my Girl Scout council (and where I met my best friend...) I wanted to be an astronaut for many, many years in the same way that some kids want to be fire fighters or cops or doctors. If I’d been able to keep that drive all the way through high school, I probably could have. Or at least been involved with the space program in some form.  But, by the middle of high school, well, I’d begun to have doubts about being an engineer, the surest way I’d ever get into space. By the time I was a senior, I knew without a doubt that I didn’t want to go into engineering or physics at all. (I indirectly blame dad for this, but not because of anything he said, but because of how miserable I saw him at his job…)

But that doesn’t mean my love of space and flying is dead. No, it just slumbers a bit and wakes now and again to make me look all starry-eyed up at the sky and wonder.
But back to the theme of this post, or what it’s supposed to be. This is supposed to be a post about heroes, not a look at my childhood dreams.
Astronauts, at least in my world, were and are heroes of the capitol “H” kind. Sure, a lot of it is just image. But for many, that image is important. There is a reason why John F. Kennedy challenged us as a nation to get to the moon by the end of the decade. There is a power in the image of the drive and the audacity and the sheer guts and imagination that it takes to achieve something like that. That is the image that the U.S. holds dear and wants to be. The country needed that at the time. (And I believe we need something like it again…) The country needed a common goal to try and heal and put some purpose behind our actions. Things were a mess then, and they’re even worse now. Of course, the “Space Race” gave us the goal of “beating” the Commies, but that was just an excuse to get us going in the same direction. To use the innovation and the drive that America is so famous for.

And the astronauts were the face of this project. They were the names that everyone knew. They were the heroes putting their lives on the line in the name of exploration and science (and the good ol’ U. S. of A!).

But the engineers that keep them alive and sheltered from the radiation and freezing temperatures and extremes of space are the real heroes. They’re the quiet, behind the scenes heroes. They’re the ones that you call in a pinch. They’re the real heroes behind the successful end to the Apollo 13 mission, the astronauts were just along for the ride at that point.
So, yes, this week there is a lot of sad NASA news. Yesterday is the anniversary of the Apollo I tragedy. Today is the 25 year anniversary of the Challenger 1 tragedy, and February 1st is the 8 year anniversary of the Columbia disaster (1 day before my Gram’s 80th birthday…)
But the men and women that keep pushing the boundaries and exploring and questioning, even knowing the hazards of the job. Those are heroes. Those are the kind of heroes that every parent should be able to point out to their kids for inspiration. Those are the ones that make you feel pride as a group, to be part of something so much bigger than yourself.
So, I must wrap this up here. This isn’t the most polished of posts and would need some serious re-writing to be turned in as an English assignment, but I think it’s a good start to something I’m going to try and keep up throughout all of February. It’s reminded me a little bit of the innocence of childhood and the power of dreams.
Peace to all and may your childhood dreams have at least a small place in your heart and never be truly lost.

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