Friday, February 1, 2013

A decade.

Finished watching Wednesday's lecture.  I had started it while my son was in an evening class, but the school got too loud and their wi-fi is slow, so I stopped it halfway through.

It's late enough that I don't really want to watch today's lecture, I'll take care of that tomorrow.

And I haven't blogged all week.  This is a week where a part of me feels like I *need* to blog, every year.  I (almost) always remember.  A part of me thinks we need to talk about these things in order to remember and learn the lessons they teach.  And another part of me wants to keep my thoughts and my journey to myself.  Because this week of remembrance is somewhat private, my own retreat to remember and recommit.
46 years ago last Sunday, my parents were in school, probably junior high.  But as a student at Purdue, I found both Gus Grissom's autobiography and his wife's book.  And on the occasions when I entered Grissom Hall, I'd mentally say hello to his ghost as I passed his photo.


27 years ago last Monday, I was in the fourth grade.  The sixth graders and perhaps another couple of classrooms were watching live coverage of Challenger's launch, but we were not.  Our teacher left the room to go to the office for a minute, and when she came back she brought the news back with her.

10 years ago today, I was in Houston, TX.

I graduated from college in 2000, and had accepted an offer to move to Houston.  I wasn't working on Space Shuttle, but I had other assignments that made me very happy.

So I went, and I worked, and I learned, and I lived my dreams.  In January of 2003, I had just started taking evening classes for my first graduate degree.  One of which was International Politics and Technology, this semester a history of the U.S. and Russian space programs.

On January 16th, we were opening two weeks of discussions with our Russian counterparts, in Houston.  We took a break from our meeting to go watch the launch, and then returned to our work.

In my 2.5 years on the program, I had learned that there is, in fact, a limit to how much I can absorb at a given time.  That when I went home from real-time work, as much as I might have thought I'd watch NASA TV and soak it all in... instead I needed to do something very different.  Take a break.  Trust that the people doing their jobs would do their jobs, and I could pick up my share of it again when I went back to work the next day.

It even shifted my reading habits slightly.  Science fiction, at least the near-future versions, was too much like work, so I read more Fantasy instead.

Anyway.  In March of 2002, I happened to be at KSC, and saw Columbia launch on its mission to repair the Hubble space telescope.  STS-109 according to Wikipedia.  It's the only launch I've ever seen live, and that's something special.

So, in 2003, we watched the launch, and then resumed our discussions.  I had perhaps one morning the next couple of weeks where I was back at my regular office, with my teammates.  Stopped by the break room, took a glance up at the monitor for NASA TV coverage.  A coworker mentioned a hope that it would get back all right.  Ignorant, overconfident, not watching the news, I replied "Of course it will."

Saturday, February 1st, I had volunteered for Expanding Your Horizons,  a STEM conference for middle-school girls.  I was a late volunteer, just another helping hand at the registration desk, checking off names and handing out registration packets.  I remember there was a training session, probably Friday night, and we were asked to be 15 minutes early for the 8:00 conference.

So at 7:45 am Saturday morning, I had parked at the University of Houston - Clear Lake and was hurrying in to my volunteer work for the day.  I clearly remember, looking up at the sky, and wishing a safe re-entry.
I didn't hear anything until around 10:00 or so that morning, when morning registration was complete.  

Somebody lent me a cell phone so I could call my husband.  A TV was on in the volunteer break room, so I went to watch.  I had committed to stay for afternoon registration, so I stayed.  Finished afternoon registration, and then I could go home, and try to absorb the news of the day.

I tried watching the news coverage.  I tried to study, but I couldn't get very far reading the history of rockets that weekend.  Sometime that afternoon, members of my church had organized a calling tree to let us know there would be a memorial service that evening.  I got ready, and I went.

Afterwards, the Young Adult Group got together and looked for a place to just be together.  I think Brian must have had to work that night, and most of the rest were single.  About half of us worked in the industry, the other half didn't, but were there for support.  On instinct, I steered us clear of the bars.  We found a restaurant to hang out for a long while, and when it closed went to a coffee shop until we thought we could probably sleep that night.

Grief is a funny thing.  Alcohol is another post entirely.

As if this week didn't hit hard enough, three years ago yesterday, my mother succumbed to her cancer.  Another story that I've just begun to write.  But when I say I almost always remember... well, she was in hospice for a bit more than a week.  That, too, left little room for anything else.

My friend from South Bend used to tell me "Life sucks and then you die."  But I never really agreed with her.
I mean, yes, sometimes life does suck.  And yes, we do die.  But there is more to it than that.  There are extraordinary good things that happen too.  Mixed in with the bad.

In my experience, life simply is.  Sometimes it's good, and sometimes it's bad.  Life just happens.  Until it doesn't.

Oh, my class this semester?  Safety Engineering.  The midterm is coming, so I'm definitely getting back into it this weekend.

Until my next post.