Saturday, January 28, 2006

Challenger 20 years later

I was in 5th grade when the Challenger exploded. That year is one I remember with great clarity; not just the events, but the sounds, the scents, the sensations. I think the Challenger is one of the things that anchored everything about that year in my memory.

The class had gathered with two others to watch the launch being broadcast on a TV. Everyone was excited and chattering. There was someone sitting on my desk and another with their foot propped on the metal bar that connected the chair to the desk. The other fifth grade teacher went into the supply closet and raided the Twinkie stash Mr. P. kept on the top shelf. The teachers sipped coffee and ate Twinkies.

At last they began the countdown to launch, and the chattering quieted. We cheered as the shuttle launched and then fell silent whe
n it exploded. No one moved for a minute, we were all frozen in place, then the teacher who had snagged the Twinkies hurried forward and turned off the TV, her coffee slopping on Mr. P.'s desk. The other teachers gathered together their classes and went back to their classrooms, silent and sober.

Mr. P. was a cold and retentive man. That was one of two times I remember him showing much emotion. Even through my own shock I could see how stunned he was. He launched into a explanation of risk and the likelihood of an accident.

The Challenger accident was the thing in my kidhood that impressed on my mind the immediacy of death. I had been aware of death in a vague way, as something I knew in my mind. Challenger brought in to me in a visceral fashion. People died in front of my eyes, it wasn't a movie, it wasn't pretend; it didn't happen again until 15 years later on a sunny September day.

Round up at Michelle Malkin's.

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