Sunday, September 23, 2012

Endeavor Waves Good-Bye


     Riding my bike up a street that I always take, a gaggle of people ran out of the door of their office building and all looked at me, waving and cheering and giving the thumbs up sign.  Odd, I usually don't get accolades for biking up this street.  A man bounced out of his front door beside me and then the coin dropped-- they're applauding Endeavor.


     I looked over my right shoulder and there she was, that Boeing 747 with the baby strapped to her back. They were escorted by two fighter jets that looked like tiny toys, flying silver minnows in the noontime sun.  Mother and child floated through the air-- huge, simple, white, and regal.
     My chest gave an unexpected spasm, my throat squinched shut and tears flowed from my eyes.  It was not only seeing Endeavor clinging to that huge jet on her last piggy back ride.  It was knowing they represented the America in which I grew.  The America with a space program and noble ideas about exploring the universe.  Was it political even then?  Sure.  We wanted to beat our old foes, the Russians, to the moon and beyond.  We wanted to dominate, we wanted and needed to win the space race, in order to preserve truth, dignity and the American way.  I'm glad that today multinational astronauts work together as they explore space.  I like a sense of earth space community.
     Still, the space shuttle program represents a time of enthusiasm and discovery which parallels a time like that in my little life.  I was in Orlando, Florida, standing with scores of people in the porte cochère of our hotel, the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, on January 28, 1986, as Challenger left the earth.  My cousin from Germany, our respective toddlers, the dog and I delayed our embarkation on a cross-country journey to California in a Ford Aerostar van to watch the launch in awe, as Challenger rose, magnificent and powerful, into the sky.  But something went terribly wrong.  The sound and sight of people shocked into screaming and running back and forth from the hotel to the landscaped berms beyond the valet parking area in psychic pain, is etched in my memory.  My mind did not want to accept the truth.  I had a moment of denial.  



     I turned to my husband and asked, "Maybe they did something special, a surprise?"  He shook his head and looked down.  "No," he said, "this is a tragedy."  A pall of heaviness settled on us.  It was a bad omen for starting a road trip of nearly 2500 miles.
     After our shock and long delayed departure, my cousin and I started across America.  We had adventures.  We had setbacks.  We forgot the dog at a rest stop in West Texas, realized it, turned back and found her snuffling around some cacti in the desert near the Highway #10 onramp. We scooped her up and stuffed her into the back of the van.  She, unaware that she had almost been a tasty coyote niblet, abandoned like a child in a forest in a Grimm's nightmare fairy tale, wagged her body in joy and licked the faces of our giggling children.
     When I saw Endeavor yesterday, my tears flowed, not just for America, but also for my life, bracketed between 1986 and now-- difficult, great, up, down.  Had I known in 1986 what would face not only America and the space program but also me, I would have probably retired to a bed in a sanitarium, staying inside the lines of an Archie and Jughead coloring book.
     But that's not how it works.  We take life on life's terms and do the best we can.  We take America and do with her the best we can.  We love her, that's the bottom line.  If there is doubt, see something like Endeavor passing overhead. She should float by more often.




19 comments:

  1. Great connections. I don't have any such stories, but it does seem like the end of an era.
    No wait, I do have a story. I own a white tile from the space shuttle. Not one of the missing tiles that fell off the shuttle into the desert, that would be a better story, but something my husband picked up at an engineering meeting. You can toast it red-hot on the burner and touch it without burning your finger.

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  2. That is a FANTASTIC connex, Judy. I wish I had such a tile. A wonder tile. A magical tile possessed of alchemic qualities that transcend the laws of physics. How cool is that, come on!

    And yes, it's the end of an era. One guy on the street, looking up for Endeavor on the second go round after she buzzed Pasadena and JPL, told me the young people don't care.

    "They can't relate," I said. "They don't even want to go to the Griffith Park Observatory."

    "Yeah," he said, "I just asked a kid if he had seen the shuttle go by yet and he pointed down the street to the bus stop-- told me the shuttle to downtown L.A. stopped there. I just shook my head and said nothing."

    He looked so disgustipated that if I were the drinking type and had not been all sweaty on my bike, I would have invited him for a drink, just to commiserate over the sad state of affairs in the world today!

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  3. You started me off with a chuckle over people applauding you, and brought me to tears with your love for this country because I feel the same way. Thank you for an excellent post!

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    1. Why, thank you so much, Marja. It's funny how something like a space shuttle can bring out the patriot in a usually blasé little take-our-country-for-granted wench like me.

      I am flattered by your praise because of your prolific and fine writing career. We all need encouragement. Thank you again.

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  4. One of my fond childhood memories is going out to the desert to watch the first test landing of the shuttle -- at least the first we were aware of. My dad shoved the five of us into the Impala and we watched in awe as it came into land.

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    1. Dad, children, an Impala, the desert, a space shuttle landing, awe. What a lovely American painting I see in my mind--Norman Rockwellish. Would that be prescient, imaginary or reverse exphrasis?

      Thank you for the vivid imagery, JB.

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  5. Also, I just noticed that the Write Stuff is covering the Right Stuff!

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  6. Great story, Marta. Graphic, and so very sad. You could never, ever forget the experience of seeing that tragedy. As a memoirist, I love how you refer to the passage of time from 1996 to now - with all of your life's ups and downs and in-betweens. There's a memoir, maybe several, in those words.

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    1. Thank you so much for your comments, Eileen. I know you read a lot of writing, so I am thrilled that I was able to engage your interest for a few minutes.

      I love memoir and would love to live off of mine someday. Wouldn't we all?

      Thank you again.

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  7. A bittersweet ending to the space program. Robots on Mars will never generate the same enthusiasm as real people in space. America seems no longer interested in pushing the boundraries and sending people to explore the stars. Expenses be darned--if the interest was there, the government would find the money to finance it. I plan to see the shuttle when it gets settled in its new home at the science museum..

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    1. I think those little Mars Rovers have spunky personalities. OK, so I am guilty of anthropomorphizing a bunch of metal parts.

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  8. I agree with everything you said, Sally. Don't get me started. We are squandering our funds on negative activities, or at least, that's how it feels to me. Many people don't understand the value of the space program. Sad. Very sad.

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  9. Gosh. You are the third person I have spoken with who saw it today. My 80 year old mom saw it too from her apt. in H'Wood and burst into tears.

    An old neighbor saw it from our old block in the Oakland Hills and send me the vid!!

    Must have be soooo spectacular and more. Moving. Awesome!!

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    1. All three-- spectacular, moving, awesome, Doug.

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  10. Dear Marta, So sorry you were so close to the loss of the Challenger. A Heart Breaker! I was on my way to a movie set at 5:30 in the morning, realizing that the Columbia was passing over my head. By the time I got to the set, the teamsters were reporting from their hand helds that the Columbia had crashed. Broken Heart.

    There are positive and negative events when us humans are able to connect. There was a palpable elation in L.A. last Friday acknowledged with heartfelt tears. My thoughts so far are that we are so bombarded by bad news and hearing about the worst in humanity that for a few moments we collectively saw and felt 'The Right Stuff' that our country 'has' been capable of. Our lives are interconnected, interwoven with those stellar accomplishments humanity is capable of.
    Love your blog title too, lol, Right On!
    xoxo

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  11. Hi Alexis, Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Yes, it was nice to be elevated beyond the usual soul-sucking news of more deaths everywhere, ugly campaigning-- even reports of continued hot weather are getting on my one last nerve.

    America had the right stuff-- I hope we can muster it again.

    xox

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  12. Well told! I think that Challenger explosion was one of my earliest memories. You really captured the moment...

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  13. Thank you, my dear. And thank you for the heads up. I believe your brain works a whole lot better than mine. You wouldn't believe how many times I looked at that date and didn't catch it-- even though I was trying to catch it. Duh.

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