I was born in 1969, 10 days before the Moon Landing to be precise. I remember always feeling the anticipation of an upcoming mission and would excitedly plop myself in front of the TV at the scheduled time to watch the men, and eventually women, shoot off of our planet and head into the stars above, the place where only God existed.
I also remember January 28, 1986, sitting in stunned silence with my classmates and teacher as the smoke and debris erupted across the screens we were staring at. I was a high school sophomore and one of my teachers, my favorite teacher, in fact, had himself applied to be on the space shuttle Challenger. Our entire school,* parents and teachers alike, in that instant of watching seven2 true heroes die before our eyes been traumatized in an instant. Just like when Kennedy was shot, just like when the towers fell, every American knows where they were when this event happened.
After that moment my desire to know about real life astronauts and their missions was instantly over or at least it was over in real time. My fascination of the sky and stars never went away. I loved sitting on the front steps and staring up at them. Although I felt so tiny in its vastness I also felt purely and totally safe. When I looked at the stars and the moon and all the galaxies that my human eyes could see, I was looking at God. I felt safe because I knew I was cradled in the belief that “God’s got the whole world in his hands” as the song tells us. And for that to be, then He was out there, somewhere in the universe, holding our earth, our lives, protectively as a parent holds their newborn baby. When I looked up at the night skies, I knew we were looking at one another at the same moment, He and I.
I have now lived a bit more than half a century and I am such a different person than I once was. I have gone through many struggles that have reshaped me. I am not happy with who I turned out to be. A Christian, yes, and that is good. A mother, yes, and that is good. A kind person and a loyal friend, yes, those are good too. Those traits have served me well and I am proud of that person. Being human is so much more complex than that though.
I am also a person suffering from bipolar illness, borderline personality, anxiety, depression, domestic abuse, stranger danger PTSD, self-doubt, loneliness, physical disabilities and false shame, to name a few. None of those things do I think I should feel blame, shame, or guilt about. I mention them because those are the things that spiral over and over creating what I do feel tremendous guilt for. I feel guilt for not living the life I have been given. I feel that I have wasted my life by allowing those uncontrollable events and chemicals and feelings to control me.
I have become a person who is afraid of living. I am afraid of what other people will think. I am afraid that when people know the real me which suffers daily with so much negativity that I allow to control me, people will no longer like me, no longer care about me and no longer want to know me let alone be my friend or love me. I cannot see how to get out of the cycle I am living in. It does not feel like I have a choice but rather that it just is. And honestly, some of it really is not a choice. Nonetheless, I hate my life even though I have many blessings that I see around me, blessings that I know, without doubt, come from God and His love for me. They are obvious. It’s just me that is the problem. Let’s fix me. I need to fix me. Thirty years of counseling hasn’t done it, Lord. I need your intervention and redirection. Anyway, I have digressed.
Looking back over my life, I think that the Challenger explosion was in fact one of the things, not the first, but one of the things that changed how I viewed the world. It made me more cautious of the outside, unforeseen events that can happen to a person. That accidents could in fact happen, could be deadly, could be tragic and can impact people for the rest of their lives. I am a person who does not take risks. I do not date. I do not go to concerts. I have never river rafted or gone up in a balloon. I won’t get on a motorcycle and I have to take pills to sleep through a trip by plane. Whenever I was asked the hypothetical question of whether or not I would ever want to go into space it was always with a resounding and unshakeable resolve of “Never.”
Last month, September 2021, four civilians3 went into space for three days not as passengers but just themselves — well they did have a trained mission control and ground crew, supportive families, and God escorting them on the trip, but still! Four people who had never met before and had no previous training or experience prior to being chosen for the ride of a lifetime went further into space than any human ever has before! Those four were a twenty-something female physician’s assistant who had survived childhood cancer, a thirty-something male aerobatic pilot, and a fifty-something female artist and poet.
As children we all wanted to win the Golden Ticket from the mind of Roald Dahl. What child wouldn’t want to visit a chocolate factory? Chris, a 40-something man won the golden ticket of all golden tickets: A ticket to space! One Sunday he was sitting on his couch watching the Superbowl and he saw a very different ad, without ever expecting to win he made a small donation for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital which entered him into a one-of-a-kind lottery. He then did what almost everyone else does after playing the lottery, he forgot all about it. Then, one day, the phone rang and his life was changed forever. Chris has lived 3 days of his life in space and has returned safely, now walking around and living life just as the rest of us do, but with an entirely different outlook on life and the world that he and all of us have been given.
So now the question, “Would you go to space if you were given a chance” is no longer hypothetical. It has been done. Four Americans, two men and two women have done it. And my answer to that question wavers. Would I? In this moment, here today, I honestly do not know. The question is real. I could be given the opportunity or make the choice. I am not a billionaire and if you’re reading me I suspect you are not either. It will be a long time before we will be confronted with truly needing to ask this question of ourselves in context of actually climbing on and strapping in. Three from this crew of individuals got to go because Jared Isaacman, the pilot and a self-made billionaire bought all of the tickets and knew what he wanted those tickets to mean for the world. This flight would mean more than “billionaires in space.” It would open the eyes to the entire world that someday someone just like you and me, and in fact, some day even you or me, could and would be able to fulfill their dreams of going to space.
For me, I think it is the draw of seeing the world hanging there in nothingness, truly suspended by our unseen God and creator who with his supernatural, godly ability keeps our world in place, rotating around our sun with our moon rotating around us; shielding us from comets heading our way and maintaining the balances required for sustainable life on our planet. I want to see our world as the miraculous planet that it is rather than think of it as, well, I don’t think we do think of it. We think of where we live but we don’t really think of the scope of where we live. We live IN outer space. I don’t think we really recognize that outer space, planets, Earth are actually really real.
It’s like dinosaurs. We see bones. We see movies. Dinosaurs, sure, I know. Earth’s a planet. Yeah, I know. But do you, really? We live on a perfectly round F’ing rock that is no-strings-attached floating on nothingness while always spinning at a constant rate in a perfect pattern with our sun, our moon, and other planets and moons in our galaxy which, oh by the way, is also spinning wildly and yet controlled. When was the last time you drew a perfect circle? I know I never have. Would you even know how to make that perfect circle a perfect globe? And then could you make it also spin without stopping and float without falling? We don’t see those things and we don’t feel those things, however, we know they are true. I would like to see that. It’s the trip and the danger that will, as I said, hold me in fear and control my actions. I guess my new answer will need to be, “I’d love to but I wouldn’t be able to.”
I admire those who have taken the trips, the astronauts of NASA and other nations, as well as the more than a dozen civilians worldwide who have had the courage to get on the spaceships heading to the skies we look upon every night. I admire their desire to reach new heights and experience new things. I admire their ability to control their fears and stand up against it. And, more than anything, I admire their proven ability to live their lives to the fullest.
I may be a survivor as others have always defined me but I am not an adventurer or an explorer, and I am certainly not a conqueror. And it seems the older I get the more stuck I feel, stuck in my fears and my habits and the choices I make. I hope that when I meet Jesus, he will forgive me for not living this gift of life to its most glorious potential. I hope that each day, while I walk this world, I will make tiny strides in a direction of positive change leading to a more complete, more exquisite, more giving and more aware experience. I hope that when my end comes I have given more than I have gotten and that my life mattered. He intended me to matter. He intended that we all should matter. Take my hand, Lord, and walk with us, guide us, and direct us to the choices that will make a difference to others.
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*As I am sure was true of all schools nationwide, maybe even worldwide.
2I don’t think I will ever forget the joke that grief created from this day: “What does NASA stand for?” Need Another Seven Astronauts. It’s sick, I know. In college I took an anthropology class about jokes, folklore, and the such. It turns out that the creation and the retelling of jokes are one of the ways we as humans cope with tragedies.
3A documentary film crew followed the men and women that made Inspiration4 come off the ground. Every single one of them were inspirational. I cried at the beauty and courage and glory I witnessed on Netflix’s Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space. Here’s the teaser to light a flame under you: