Forgiveness

For as long as I can remember, I have ridiculed forgiveness and mocked it without concern about how I would be perceived. I always thought of forgiveness as something people did for selfish reasons; i.e., to raise themselves up above others as some sort of demigod, someone who was better than all the others who could not or would not forgive. I also thought the reason people forgave others was for redemption. Maybe others were forgiving me all my life; I don’t know. But I just did not recognize it, and I don’t recall forgiving as part of my personality.  Fuck ’em, I would think, they’re the ones who mistreated me. Why should I forgive them?

And then something happened. I was hurt badly by someone, so much so that I honestly thought my relationship with that person was over. Not only was I hurt, I felt totally betrayed and angry. I didn’t understand how or why I was treated the way I was. It ate at me from the inside out. It seemed like every morning, I would be tearful or angry because I just didn’t get it and couldn’t get over it.

Not once did I think about forgiving this person. Never entered my mind. I tried as best I could to let the whole thing go, and the only way I was able to do that was to reduce my communications with that person to a minimum. This actually helped. By not thinking about that person as much, I was able to deal with my own personal torture and move on to some extent.

And so life went on. This was someone I loved very much, but I stuck to my guns and  had very little communication with this person. A few phone calls, a few text messages, but none initiated by me. That was part of my way of dealing with the situation.

And then slowly, over a period of time, this person began to communicate with me more. There was no actual apology (I still wish today for that), but I began to allow myself to open up more in spite of my hurt and anger. And the hurt and anger started to dissipate, not overnight, but slowly and steadily, without my even realizing it. I still had trust issues, but I loved this person so much that I felt it was worth it to begin to trust again.

Things were rocky at times, but I allowed myself to keep moving forward. I started reaching out to this person, and the relationship was no longer just one way. The love between us began to grow again, like a tiny little bulb that began pushing itself out of the ground after a long hibernation.

It was then that I realized what forgiveness was and what it was doing to me. This was not a religious experience, but it was an awakening, a true understanding of how healing it was to forgive someone.

Now I love this person with all my heart and while the past is not forgotten, it is no longer torturing me.  It’s not about the other person, and it’s not even about verbalizing your forgiveness to that person. It’s about how something can eat at you forever, or you can forgive.

I guess that’s what forgiveness is all about.

PS I didn’t post for two years because I was too busy being hurt and angry and then, at last, forgiving. Maybe now I’ll be able to post more.

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Loss

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The loss of a loved one is, I think, the most devastating thing that we as humans will experience. There is really nothing like it, nothing it can be compared to, nothing that hurts as badly.

Loss takes us to a place where we join others who have experienced the same thing. We somehow form a bond with people we will never know, never meet. We become separated from those who have not yet experienced loss, even though we know they will.

Loss becomes even more intense if you actually watch a loved one take their last breath. It is an overpowering, overwhelming sense of loss that is so personal that nothing will ever remove that moment from your mind. You watched that person be no more. It is forever.

Loss takes a piece of you away. It feels like something is missing, not just the person, but a part of yourself. And no matter where you are in your own life, your world after loss is inexorably changed. You can, after an initial period of grief, try to go back to life as it was, but no, this doesn’t happen. It never will. It is a new world and a strange one at that.

Nothing seems to make sense anymore. You are not the same person anymore. Where you were strong, now you are weak. Where you used to laugh, now you cry. Where you enjoyed life, now you are sad. You are lost.

People reach out when they see your loss. They want to help, but they soon realize they are unable to. And then you start to feel as if you are invisible. That’s because after a while, people start to be uncomfortable around you. You remind them of death, of loss, of grief. And regardless of whether they’ve experienced it first-hand or not, they want no part of it. They want to live in denial. I get that. It’s human nature, I guess, to not want to think about the bad things, to want to live in a place where loss doesn’t exist. Who wouldn’t?

And so in addition to feeling like a piece of you is gone, you begin to feel a loneliness that cannot be taken away by the people in your life. They don’t understand that your loss has made you feel different, alienated, empty. They don’t understand when you don’t want to participate in things, and they judge you for it.

Loss is raw. It eats at you from the inside out. It is a rawness that leaves you defenseless against just about anything. You have nothing with which to fight, to stake out a place for yourself in this new world. You may think you’re okay until something happens that touches that raw part of you and the loss is right there, just as unbelievably horrifying as it was the first time.

We’re not stupid, none of us. There are births, and we rejoice. There are deaths, and we mourn. Yet we choose to consciously and subconsciously deny death until it is right in front of us and we have no choice but to deal with it. I sometimes wonder now, because I made that choice too, if shielding yourself makes a difference when the loss occurs. I don’t think it does, so if you’ve not experienced loss yet, stave it off, by all means, as long as you like. And if you have experienced it, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

This is loss.

True Confessions

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My confessions might shock you. Then again, maybe not.

 
• I didn’t read the Harry Potter books, and worse, I didn’t watch all the movies.
• I don’t get Shakespeare at all, and believe me, I’ve tried.
• I don’t like U2 or Bono and never have.
• I swear like a man and am proud of it.
• I’ve never had a so-called recurring acid trip and my kids are not deformed (physically anyway)
• I once threatened to turn one of my children over to the state. Hey, it happens.
• I had a home birth and literally howled like an animal while pushing.
• I have shoplifted. But it was a really long time ago and the statute of limitations has expired.
• I pointed a squirt gun at a National Guardsman during a demonstration back in the sixties. I was promptly arrested and charged with disturbing the peace. Guess they didn’t think it was so funny.
• I have absolutely no respect for authority, which has gotten me in trouble numerous times in my life (see above).
• I voted for Ronald Reagan. But only the first time.
• I watch General Hospital. One time my husband said, “I can’t believe you, of all people, watch a soap opera!” Whatever that means.
• I have skinny-dipped a few times.
• I used to pen such offensive “tell it like it is” emails that people called them “zingers.”
• I’m not afraid of dying, but I am afraid of living.

 

Reincarnation

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There was a time in my life when I believed in reincarnation. It made total sense to me and I loved the idea that we have all lived many lives and will live many more. If you know anything about reincarnation, you know that it is based on a belief that we are spiritual beings and that we are in bodies to learn, to advance spiritually. When we have reached what is commonly referred to as enlightenment, we become part of the “god” consciousness that we came from and don’t have to reincarnate anymore. The reason we continue to reincarnate is to correct the mistakes we made in previous lives and reconnect with those we may have harmed so that we can make amends.

I was raised in the Roman Catholic faith, but I had already decided  in my teens that Catholicism wasn’t for me.  I was always a rebellious Catholic, even when I was very young. I remember questioning the nuns about things we weren’t supposed to question and having my knuckles rapped with a pencil. I never got the thing about people going straight to hell because they weren’t Catholics. I would ask the nuns, “Well, what if they don’t even know there is such a thing as the Catholic church?”  I always got the same answer. It didn’t matter that they were unaware. They were still destined to go to hell. It just didn’t make sense to me.

So I was a lapsed Catholic, I guess you could say. I had stopped going to church and I hadn’t been struck by lightning. I slowly accepted that it was probably okay to not be a religious person and I began to question all of religion and whether it served any real purpose. I saw that it limited people and even made them afraid. I saw how people in one religion judged all other religions, and I saw how people used religion to hurt others. I really wanted no part of it.

I was in my twenties when I was introduced to reincarnation, much more mature than a teenager, or so I thought.  I didn’t have any real knowledge about Eastern religions, but it was the sixties and there was a lot of attention being paid to them. The Eastern religions were “groovy” and gurus were everywhere. When reincarnation was explained to me, I was smitten. What a perfect concept, what a great “pass” on everything, big and small, in my life. This was freedom! I could do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted because no matter what, I had many lifetimes before me. I could put off learning in this lifetime because I could come back and learn it in my next life. And that person that pissed me off? I could let them have it and not be sorry one bit because I would run into them in another life and could make amends then. Wow! What a cakewalk!

Of course, I knew in the back of my mind that I was prolonging the amount of time I would have to spend reincarnating by transgressing. But it was a whole lot better than the one life, one shot, and if you mess up, you go straight to hell concept I had been taught in my youth.  No get out of hell free card for me! But this, the whole reincarnation thing, bought me some time, a whole lot of time, to pay off my debts. I was living the dream! It was so liberating!

Along with a belief in reincarnation comes karma, a truly magical thing that says no matter what you say, do or think, it spirals out into the universe and then Comes Back! And even better, it works on all those lousy jerks who kill, rape and commit other horrendous crimes. And it even works on the jackass who pulled out in front of me and almost caused an accident. People absolutely love the concept of karma, mainly because they really think it works. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say things like, “Well, he’ll get his karma! That will come back to him.” And they really believe this.

But look around at the real world and you’ll see that there is no such thing in play. People commit horrendous crimes and get away with it. People say the most offensive things and get away with it. There are wars, there are so many bad things that happen in our world. You would think karma would have long ago taken care of these things.

But wait! With reincarnation, karma may not happen in this lifetime. In other words, we may not see the karma because it’s going to take place in the future, in another life. So the evildoer in this lifetime may be having the time of his or her life, but rest assured,  they are going to pay in a future life. Perfect!

As you can see, it all makes sense in a weird, convoluted sort of way, which I think is why I bought into it so wholeheartedly. My friends and I would sit around talking about history and imagining who and where we might have been in previous lives and in what eras we lived in. It was fun! And even the Beatles were into it!

Over a period of time, though, I began to realize that there were things about these concepts that just didn’t jive with reality. I looked around at the world and saw the truly random nature of our existence on Planet Earth. I saw that much as I would like to think that even a simple thought in my mind could have a reverberating effect in the real world, this just isn’t the case.

We are human beings. We live one life. We have one chance to live a fruitful, meaningful life. Our rewards and punishments are right here and right now. That is what I choose to believe and how I choose to live my life.

One other thing. The person who turned me on to reincarnation in the first place was a crazy megalomaniac who professed to be pretty much every famous person in history. If I had been as mature as I thought I was in my twenties, I would never have fallen for reincarnation in the first place. Oh well. Chalk it up to experience, the best teacher I know.

Resurrection

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I’ve been seeing ads for a new ABC show with the above name. The ads are sickening to me; they show people coming back from the dead. What kind of cruel sick joke is that? I would like nothing more for the door to open and my husband to walk in. But I know that will never happen. He’s been gone almost three years, and I know it’s impossible.

If you’ve lost a loved one, I’m sure you would love to see that person walk in the door. Maybe there’s something you wish you’d said or had a chance to say before their death. Maybe you want to tell that person all the things they’ve missed, all those times you wanted to turn to that person and tell them something, only to realize they’re not here anymore. Maybe you just want with every bit of your being to have that person back. But you know that’s just not going to happen, because people don’t really come back from the dead. They just don’t.

So where is the audience for this type of sick joke? I don’t think anyone who has lost a loved one could sit through even a few minutes of this without breaking down. I can’t even stand the ads, little vignettes showing a husband and wife, thirty years later, seeing their child just as he was before he died? Watching these actors as they are seeing their dead child is horribly heart-wrenching.  And these are just actors, playing a role. Sick.

If you’re a religious or spiritual person, you may believe that you will see all of your loved ones in another domain or dimension. Even so, you know you’ll never see them in this world. But believing you will see them again after your own demise is some comfort, and I understand that. Maybe that makes it possible for you to watch this type of show. But I don’t think so.

There’s plenty of trash on TV.  We have zombies, vampires, ghosts, seers, gurus, hoarders, polygamists, and yes, the Kardashians.  Enough.

I promise you this is one show I won’t be watching. It’s horrifying and sickening to prey on the emotions of people who’ve lost loved ones and somehow twist reality to give them any hope whatsoever that such a thing could ever happen.  It can’t and it won’t. It’s hard enough to deal with loss without having this type of ridiculous tripe out there. Maybe it’s time to turn the TV off.

Anger 101

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A telephone book is a  great anger management tool.  Here’s how. Choose a fairly large telephone book. I have three or four to choose from, depending on my level of anger (and how good I want to feel afterwards). Next, choose a location. A carpeted location will insulate the noise somewhat in case you are not alone and don’t want to be called a lunatic.

Another story in itself.

Now, raise the telephone book high over your head with both hands and carefully select a landing point. Aim for a location where nothing else is in the vicinity unless, of course, you have taken the time to gather up items that remind you what you are angry with or about. Then, by all means, have them in position. Now, take a deep breath and say whatever you want. It could just be my favorite, “Fuck you world!” which, when interpreted into another language, Italian, for example, means “Fuck you world!” As you are pronouncing, or proclaiming, or even maligning another human being on the planet, lower your arms and heave the phone book in a rapid downward motion. Bam! The noise in itself is pretty darn entertaining and anger-alleviating.

There is great satisfaction in this, I promise. I’ve done this many times. It actually works better than kicking doors or punching a hole in a wall, something I feel certain many are quite familiar with. No damage to anything at all, and it feels really good.

Repeat this three or four times, and now you’re getting a little winded, aren’t you? That’s good. Take a minute to stop and relax. If still feeling anger, repeat as many times as necessary.

There’s really nothing wrong with being angry. The worst thing you can do is deny anger or hold it in. That’s when bad things start to happen. Check the news; you’ll see what I mean. Anger can eat at your insides and do lots of damage. But being angry in itself is not what’s bad. It’s a real emotion, a real feeling, and it generally won’t be denied. It needs to be addressed.

I really despise smug people who have a long list of platitudes relating to anger:  forgive, let go, meditate, blah, blah, blah. What a bunch of bullshit. These types are the ones most loaded with anger that they are currently suppressing or denying and will continue to do so with their last breath. Me? Angry? Never!  Liars and deniers, every last one of them.

Acknowledge your anger and then find a way to express it in a way that no one and no thing is harmed.

Growing Up Italian

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My sweet Aunt Jo, my mother’s older sister, passed away last November. She was 88. For many years she talked about writing a memoir. She wanted to share some of the stories she remembered about our family. About ten years ago, she put all the pictures and stories she had collected into a single document and had copies printed and bound for all of us. It is such a treasure, and I’ve read it many times. The stories and pictures are truly incredible.

After she died, I asked her children, my cousins, if they had any objection to my posting portions on this blog. They did not.

But first, a little history. My grandparents on my mother’s side were married in Agrigento, Sicily, in 1919, shortly after the end of World War I. A German ship had been captured and renamed the Woodrow Wilson. Italian veterans were offered free passage to America, and my grandfather and his new wife, who was now pregnant with their first child, were on board. They came through Ellis Island and eventually settled in Buffalo, New York. Their first child died in infancy; they had five other children, three girls and two boys.  All were named after family in Italy, as was the custom.

Here are just a few excerpts in her own words:

The period I am writing about, the late twenties and early thirties, people did not have phones in their homes. There were no supermarkets and very few people had cars. They either walked or rode the streetcar. This vehicle rode on tracks and was powered by electricity….it was similar in appearance to a trolley. The fare was three cents for children, five cents for adults…

There were neighborhood grocery stores, fish markets, butcher shops, chicken markets, and when the weather permitted, street vendors who were still using a horse and wagon. They usually sold fruits and vegetables. The milkman delivered door to door early in the morning. He usually left the milk bottles on the back steps or inside a door. He would leave full bottles and pick up the empties from the previous day’s delivery…

The grocery stores and other shops and markets were usually family owned and operated. There was at least one grocery store on every block. If you needed something, you had to go to the store, usually every day, because no one had refrigerators…

When a parent felt they no longer wanted to send their children to school, they just stopped sending them. As soon as the children in a family became the right age, they were expected to go to work. On payday, they brought the money home to their parents. The Italian way was that everyone worked for the family, and the man of the house ruled…

At that time, Hoover was president, the Great Depression was starting, and prohibition was still the law of the land. The property we were living in consisted of two houses with a wide driveway between them. We were renters and Mr. and Mrs. Perrone (the owners) lived there too.

In the back of this property was a huge barn. In this barn was an old carriage we children played on and several laundry trucks usually parked in there, along with Mr. Perrone’s car. In the house we lived in was a basement. No one was allowed to use the door to the basement. When the weather was warm, the door was open. There was always a man there that we children would visit. He was very friendly and usually busy. I later realized there was a still and the nice man was making alcohol. The laundry trucks delivered the alcohol.

The properly was next to a school. At election time, voting took place in the school basement. That is when there was a lot of activity in our backyard, especially along the driveway. All kinds of men, including policemen, came in that driveway, took out a hidden flash and sneaked a drink. That was also a busy time for the owner of the house. There was a lot going on. There were also comments made by my parents. Years later in history class, I realized what was going on in that house. I remember Mama saying, “She brags, she gives her son steak for lunch. With only one child and the kind of money she handles, why not?” I can still hear Papa say, “I’d rather die poor but honest.”

In our house, all holidays were celebrated, both church and national holidays. New Year’s Day was Papa’s birthday. The celebration would begin on New Year’s Eve. Mama would fix an early dinner for us children. Papa stayed open later at the barber shop. Whenever he got home, he ate something. The dining room table would be set with bowls of nuts and nutcrackers, cookies, celery and sweet anise, olive salad and more, all at midnight. Glasses would be clinked together as everyone said saluti, bon anno attutti (good health, Happy New Year’s to all). Even children had a sip of wine.

On New Year’s Day, we would have company for dinner of soup, macaroni and sauce. This was followed by a meat course, then the greens, which included salad, celery, sweet anise and olives, followed by nuts and cookies. Always there would be chestnuts. This would be the noon meal. As soon as this was all served, a large capon was put in the oven to bake for the evening meal. The noon meal was served at exactly twelve noon. The evening meal would be served at six. The men would play cards, the ladies would be washing dishes and preparing the next meal. It would be another big one. This one would usually finish with birthday cake. Many times there would be drop-in company who would be expected to join in the festivities, lots of noise, lots of food, lots of confusion. Sometimes the Victrola would be played, furniture would be moved, the rug rolled up. We danced and sang. Other times we might all sit around the tables and nibble on goodies. Everyone joined in to play the card game, 7 ½ , for pennies.

In later years:

The winds of war had started. Hitler was in power with his Nazi regime. He started to invade and hold in his power smaller and weaker nations. Mussolini was in power in Italy. He was allied with Germany. Lend lease with England was begun with President Roosevelt. Jobs were available as war production had begun. Finances were not great in our house.

December 7, 1941. The Japanese government had their fleet sailing the Pacific, armed for battle. Most of the American Fleet was anchored in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Early that morning, Japanese planes launched from aircraft carriers bombed Pearl Harbor. President Roosevelt declared war on both Germany and Japan. We were at war on two fronts. The depression was definitely over. The whole country became busy, all for the war effort. People were working again. So was Papa, working in a factory sorting nuts and screws and stuff. Our young men were being drafted into the armed forces. All the young men were leaving. When we saw them again, it was usually after basic training. They all looked so handsome in their uniforms. When it was time, they would leave again, some never to return.

I was eighteen on December 5, 1942. The country had been at war for a year. Women were taking over men’s jobs, men were going to war on two fronts. When walking down the street and looking around at the houses, every home had a banner in the window. The number of stars on that banner would tell you how many boys that family had in the armed forces. If it was a white banner with a gold star, that meant their boy died in the war.

I was a first in the Dupont factory. I was an eighteen-year old girl whose classification was apprentice machinist. As the word spread that there was a little girl working in the tool crib, all the men had to come and take a look. Some decided that a good girl would not be doing that type of job. At the end of the first week, I was ready to quit but didn’t dare. I could not go home and say I’d quit. So I stayed and did my work. When two men would tell a dirty joke, I acted as though I didn’t hear it or did not know what they were talking about. There was one man who had a bad mouth. One day I asked if he had a daughter. He said, “Yes.” I very calmly asked how he would feel if my father spoke to his daughter the way he spoke to me. He walked away. When he came back to the tool crib, he apologized profusely.

For the rest of the time I worked there, he was my friend. Gradually, I was fondly spoken of by all the men as the little girl in the tool crib. They would bring me cookies their wives baked, or in summer, flowers from their garden. They never hesitated to introduce me to their families if the occasion arose. I worked there until the war was over and the boys started to come home.

This is but a brief look at history through the eyes of one woman, my Aunt Josephine Lombardo. May she rest in peace. Special thanks to her children, my cousins Phil, Charlie and Isabelle, for allowing me to share this.  There are a multitude of pictures reprinted in her memoir. I have chosen just one, my Aunt Jo and Uncle Tom on their wedding day. She was a beautiful bride.

AuntJo

Making Rainbows

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This year for Christmas I got the cutest present ever.  It’s called a Rainbow Maker and yes, it makes rainbows! I wasn’t really sure how this small device was actually going to make rainbows, but I was game.

It has a small solar panel at the top, and all you do is stick it to a window that gets direct sunlight. Once the solar panel is charged, the brightly-colored gears begin to rotate, the two Swarovski elements (crystals) suspended at the bottom begin to twirl, and voila, rainbows everywhere!

Rainbow

Within an hour of mounting, I was standing in the center of my sunroom watching cute little circular rainbows dancing and prancing all over the walls and ceiling. As much as I was enjoying this darling contraption, I couldn’t wait to show my four-year old granddaughter Willow.  She loves rainbows. She draws them and she paints them, and my daughter always points them out to Willow when they appear in the sky.

The first time she came over after the Rainbow Maker was in place, it was a cloudy day. But I took her out to the sunroom anyway to show her  and explain that it made rainbows. She immediately wanted it. By that I mean she literally wanted to remove it from the window and take it home with her. She was pretty adamant about it, even moving toward it as if to remove it on her own.

I spoil this child and am proud of it. It is rare for me to even come close to disciplining her. When she comes to my house, I follow her lead and we do whatever she wants. We draw, we paint, we watch movies, we play. There is rarely any need for discipline. We are play partners and I leave the discipline to my daughter.

Willow's Rainbow

Willow’s Rainbow

So on this day when she wanted to abscond with my new toy, it took a lengthy discussion to “talk her down.”  She’s a pretty smart little girl—she takes after her grandmother—and conversing with her is always enlightening for both of us. Anyway, we moved on to other things that day and the Rainbow Maker was forgotten for the moment.

The next time she came for a visit, the sun was out and the Rainbow Maker was doing its thing. I was pretty excited.  I took her into the sunroom and we stood in the middle of the room. I told her to look around at the rainbows that were literally everywhere all around us, moving slowly, one appearing, then another and another. I was pointing at them as they would appear, directing her to look here, then there, and then there. She stood quietly. At one point a rainbow appeared on her face and I told her. Then I positioned myself so that a rainbow would appear on my face for her to see. Again, she just stood there quietly. I was waiting for some laughter and delight, and I didn’t seem to be getting that.

Willow and I stood there for a few minutes watching the swirling rainbows. She remained quiet the whole time but appeared to be carefully observing the rainbows.

Finally she turned to me, raised her arms in an expansive movement and said, “Grammy, if I grabbed all of them like this,” and she began closing her arms as if to catch them, “Then I could make a real rainbow!”

Well then.

The Panda Cam

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I’m glad the government shutdown is over. It wasn’t necessary and it hurt the economy. I’m also glad the National Zoo’s Panda Cam is back on, because it’s  been a strange and wonderful part of my life for many years.

I was one of those people who never had a warm, fuzzy feeling about pets in general.  There were a few cats over the years, but I never really formed a strong attachment. We had a dog for a brief time, but to me he was just another responsibility.

And then things changed. In July of 2005, I was self-employed, working out of an office in my home when Mei Xiang, the female panda at the National Zoo, gave birth to a tiny, hairless creature. I was mesmerized. Every morning I would turn on the Panda Cam and watch as this giant panda so very carefully nurtured her tiny baby…

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The Right Stuff

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When NASA announced their Teacher in Space Program in 1984, more than 11,000 teachers applied. Journalists almost immediately began clamoring for their shot at a trip on a space shuttle too. I was one of them. I was a huge fan of the space program and often fantasized about spaceflight. There was talk of a Journalist in Space Program, but the loss of Challenger and its crew, including teacher Christa McAuliffe,  ended any plans for NASA to send civilians into space. But it was still a dream of mine, and I often wondered what it would be like to be launched into space and to experience zero gravity.

In 1988, I did get to see a space shuttle launch, though, and it was an experience  I’ll never forget.  It was a cool September morning.  I was at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and we were anxiously awaiting the launch of Discovery, the first shuttle launch since Challenger exploded 73 seconds into flight in January of 1986.  We were on one of many causeways just a few miles from the launch pad and could clearly see Discovery in the distance, smaller than the solid rocket boosters and giant external tank that together provide the force needed to launch the shuttle off the pad, out of Earth’s gravity and into space.  She looked so tiny in comparison to the external tank, which was filled with a highly explosive liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen mixture.

There were many changes after Challenger, one of the most significant of which was that astronauts on the ground had to concur on the launch. Made sense to me. They were the ones putting their lives on the line and wanted a voice. So the launch procedure involved querying a number of people at different locations, some at Johnson Space Center in Houston, some at Kennedy Space Center, others at landing sites available to the shuttle if an abort became necessary while still in Earth’s gravity.

Large loudspeakers were set up so that we could hear Mission Control taking the entire country through the launch sequence. It was eerie as each voice was heard saying, “Go” as Mission Control queried them. The final concurrence came from an astronaut, Robert Crippen.  My stomach was in knots as the count picked up at T-minus nine minutes. Everything was happening very quickly now.  With binoculars, I could see the access arm of the shuttle moving away. They were powering up the rocket boosters and I could see wisps of smoke.  Then, at T minus two minutes, I could see the beanie cap being retracted from the top of the external tank, which meant they were pressurizing it and that all systems were go for launch.

Now the shuttle’s main engines ignite and as the countdown clock reaches zero, the boosters ignite too, and Discovery lifts off the pad and starts to make its way skyward.  Silence.  And then, as the speed of sound catches up with the speed of light, I hear an almost deafening rumble as this huge beast is powered into the sky.

florida-space-shuttle

We are still only a few seconds into launch and I am watching through binoculars, counting the seconds with the rest of the country, knowing we are not past that 73-second event that took Challenger and her crew . No one is cheering, no one is shouting.  We are quiet, apprehensive, remembering and hoping with all our hearts that nothing bad is going to happen.

We hear Mission Control and the Discovery astronauts going through the rest of the launch sequence, and finally, after 73 seconds, there is a collective sigh of relief as Discovery climbs and then sheds the solid rocket boosters and the external tank. She’s on her own now and in less than eight minutes, she’s out of the Earth’s atmosphere and in orbit.

I don’t dream of going into space anymore. When you see it up close and personal, you begin to understand the enormity of the danger associated with spaceflight. From that time forward, every time I would watch a shuttle launch, I would remember—and I knew—that I did not have The Right Stuff.