I’m rummaging around in my bedroom closet for something, as I write this, I can’t remember what it was.

I can’t find it so I try the small storage space under the basement stairs.

As I tear the place apart move stuff around, I still don’t find it, but as I look up I see something else. My strong box. The one I’ve had since I was a really little kid. The one my sweet great grandma gave to me, to store all my most prized possessions.

I grab for the scuffed, brass handle and tug the box into my chest, the metal contracting, making that sound only metal can, like artificial thunder.

I get a kind of grin on my face, my heart lightens and I promptly forget what I was doing (Oh, shiny!) and hurry upstairs to take a trip down memory lane. As I climb the stairs, I search my brain, trying to make a mental inventory of what I remember being in there. I can name a few things, but the rest isn’t coming back to me as quickly. It’s been a long while since I’ve visited my past and I usually only do it intentionally, when I feel I can face whatever I may find.

strongboxI set it on the kitchen table, the sunlight is beaming through the light green sheers, almost illuminating it. I slide the lever to the right, the lid sticks for a second, but I yank the handle a bit harder and it flies open.

So many memories.

They come at me like unrelenting waves, rolling over me as if I were the seashore on a windy day. One after another, after another, after another…

I go through a cycle of emotions faster than the spokes can spin on a tire (with a card attached by a clothespin ticket-y ticking as fast as it can).

I giggle, sigh, I strain my memory for images, sights and sounds, people who were once connected to me and wonder “where are they now?”.

I remember.

michaeljacksonfolder2As I get closer to the bottom of my box of memories I come across my Michael Jackson folder, complete with graffiti and scratch-n-sniff stickers exclaiming, “Plum Good!” and “Ba-nanza!” (Yes, I DID scratch them. Yes, they DO still smell! Can you believe it?!) I open it, and right next to the “Vital Statistics” paper my 5th grade teacher had us fill out (where I note my personal hero as being “Indiana Jones”) I see it. And I remember.

michaeljacksonfolderopen I silently gasp and hold my breath as I read these words:

“Weekly Reader, Special Commemorative Supplement, February 21, 1986”

I stare at the faces. One by one. More words, “‘We Mourn Seven Heroes'” and “‘The future belongs to the brave.'”, taken from President Ronald Reagan’s speech, stare back at me. I gently turn the pages as if I’ve uncovered an ancient manuscript, lost to the ages, just like Indiana Jones.

challengerarticle1challengerarticle2challengerarticle3I feel for a chair and slowly lower myself as I feel my heart ache and my eyes go blurry from the tears welling up. It was long ago, 28 years actually, and I start to realize how much it had impacted me. My nose starts running and I grab a kleenex, clearing my throat, attempting to shrug off the ridiculous feelings this finding has invoked. I brush away escaped tears, moving the article aside and there it is. I sit there, stunned. A yellowing piece of paper with my handwriting, the rough draft of an essay for a class assignment on one side, the finished paper on the other. The cleverly obvious working title, “My Space shuttle feelings”.

challengeressay1challengeressay2Under my breath, I read my own 28 year old words:

“It was January 28, 1986, the beginning of the new year. It was around 11:24 and I was in my Math class. Mary had just announced that at Cape Canaveral, where Kennedy space center is located, the space shuttle Challenger had blown up, one minute and fif-teen seconds af-ter its launch, killing all seven on board. The astronauts were: Sharon Christa Mc Auliffe, a Social Studies teacher in Concord, New Hampshire, Gregory Jar-vis, Ronald Mc Nair, Francis Scobee, Judith Resnik, Mike Smith, and Ellison Onizuka. When I heard that I held my breath and tried to believe that it happened but I couldn’t. It was so shocking that whenever I hear about it I start to shiver and remember the videotape I saw that night on the news. When it was over I started feeling sorry for the family’s they had left behind. It must have been scary seeing your reletive die like that. I hope it never happens again because it hurt so many peoples lives.”

Bits of images flash in my mind, Mr. Clayton standing in front of the class, our timed Math speed test being interrupted (I can still hear the “bing” of the intercom, Mary’s choked up voice), tv’s on carts wheeled into hallways, teachers whispering and some brushing tears away, walking to the media center where Mrs. Trapp had the news on, kids feeling scared, uncertain, looking to the adults for direction as to what to think, to feel, how to process it all. All the whispers in the hallways. I knew something serious has happened, something that would change all of our lives.

challengeressay3I was 11.

I just sat there. Remembering that say. Then, I took a deep breath, let out a big sigh, gently folded everything back up and carefully put it all back in its place. My mind was racing a mile a minute and took a while to slow down. I wondered if I hadn’t been taught how to or allowed the proper time to process everything all those years ago.I don’t know.

I remember a teacher, a civilian like me, a mom, like mine, and how she died, her children and family, a whole nation watching as she and her colleagues flew to their death. How a facet of the definition of being brave was etched into my mind. I wondered how I should process this as a Christian, in light of scripture, and as an adult. I’m still not quite sure, but, I do know the Lord knows what He’s doing and we can trust His plans for all of us.

Today, as I write this, I am remembering again. I look back and see how much life DID change after that. How many years it took for NASA to try again, how things are really quiet on that front now, unless you like space stuff, which, I do. I’m glad that hasn’t changed. I still look up at the night sky, trying to comprehend the universe, our place in it. Meteor showers, solar eclipses, lunar phases, sun dogs, planets, eclipsing binary stars, telescopes, constellations, satellites streaking across a blanket of stars…still make me giddy. (For the record, Pluto IS a planet, AHEM.)

Life has gone on, though it looks and sometimes feels a little different.

President Ronald Reagan’s Challenger Memorial Speech:

Soli Deo Gloria

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Liza January 28, 2014 at 5:41 pm

You asked on facebook if we remember where we were when the Challenger exploded. I gave a quick answer because I using my phone and don’t like to type a lot on the phone. Here’s my long answer:

My dad worked at NASA – he worked in the safety department, making sure things were safe for launch. We moved to Florida right before I started kindergarten; I was in first grade when Challenger exploded.

We had spent the weeks leading up to the launch talking about Christa McAuliffe. We probably knew everything there was to know about her. We also talked some about the other astronauts, but a teacher in space? THAT was a big deal.

The day of launch, everyone was excited. Our school always had a fire drill whenever there was a launch so we could go outside to watch. I remember that everyone was watching the clock, waiting for the fire alarm to ring. As we stood outside the school, I told my friends that on clear days, you could sometimes see the solid rocket boosters fall away from the shuttle. They would look like little white dots moving away from the main shuttle trail.

When the explosion happened, our cheering quickly turned silent. Us kids were confused. The teachers were in shock. I remember someone asking me if the extra trails were the boosters, and I knew it wasn’t. I had never seen anything like it before. I didn’t know what it meant until we were ushered back into the school and the principal confirmed what happened. (As my mom tells it (she was teaching 3rd grade that year), the principal said, “The Challenger exploded shortly after launch. Your teacher will explain.” – and that was all the principal said.)

I remember going home and turning on the news, where they showed it over and over – those trails of smoke against that brilliant blue sky. Oh, it was devastating. I remember that we finally had to turn off the news because there was nothing new to tell. We had seen it in real life; we didn’t need to see it over and over again.

I don’t remember much else about that day and the immediate aftermath, but that day is one I’ve never forgotten. Your last sentence beautifully sums up just about every major disaster that has happened…life goes on, though it looks a little different.

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ali @ an ordinary mom February 10, 2014 at 2:12 pm

I just remember being stunned, in shock, wanting to disbelieve, though I couldn’t, because I had seen it, and it was all over the news, but…
I wanted there to be a happy ending, and there just wasn’t one :(

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