Tears and Spaceships

Tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of the Challenger disaster.

Many people my age (like my husband) were sitting in classrooms watching the lift off, because not only was it cool, but there was a TEACHER on board…

Making what happened all the more horrifying.

I was not in school that day. My parents had pulled us out of school for a study-leave/vacation in California. Mom and Dad were at a conference at the Crystal Cathedral. We kiddos were enjoying a week at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

So, I was sitting on the floor of the TV room at their house, watching the lift off with my grandparents. Which was incredibly cool because my Grandpa’s job was building jets and spaceships (he was a foreman for an aerospace company…this is about the coolest job your grandpa can have when you are a kid). I think, in fact, that there were parts of the Space Shuttles that he had worked on.

What I remember is that it was sort of unclear to the untrained eye for a few seconds that something terrible had happened. Was it just another puff of jet fuel propelling the shuttle, or…

But I was sure, at the time, that Grandpa knew what had happened a few seconds earlier than other people (like, for example, 3rd grade teachers) and he got up without a word and turned off the TV. When we figured out what was going on, this seemed like one of those incredible moments when a parent or grandparent is watching out for you…as in, maybe this was something that we shouldn’t see. I’m grateful that I was where I was. It seems like the sort of event where you might be better off watching with family than with your grade school class.

Later in the week, we went with my parents to church at the Crystal Cathedral. The service was a national tribute to the the people who had died in the disaster.

I was talking to my Dad about this last week, though, and he wondered if the other piece of this was the Grandpa himself did not want to watch anymore. Too emotional to see it when you are so very connected, physically even, to what’s happening. I’m guessing it was a little bit of both.

My Grandma once told me that Apollo 13 was one of the only movies that ever made him cry. Because the memory of that weekend, as someone who really knew how the craft worked, was just too intense.

It’s odd to think now about how this moment is one of the “where were you when” events for my generation…and the ones that have been added in the last 25 years. And to think about how for me, “where were you when” is influenced just by the where, but by the who, and when the event and a piece of family history rub up against each other a bit.