Waking to Awareness


It was January 28, 1986. I was in fifth grade. We were just coming back from a ‘Gifted & Talented’ meeting (decidedly not my term for the group of loons that lucked out on a certain aptitude test) and our homeroom teacher ushered us back into our usual seats while a television played in the background. Blue – the brightest blue the sky could be – was the first thing we saw. A trail of clouds, then a puff of smoke that was the end of seven lives. Miss Lampman whispered in a stern tone, “The Challenger exploded.”

We sat down quietly, each taking it in in his or her own way. The moment you realize the significance of something happening is the moment you start to grow up. Whether or not we were ready, there was life knocking at our door, in a silent explosion against a blue sky. It felt a little closer because one of our teachers had applied to be on that Challenger flight. The one who was chosen was schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe. Either way, it was a civilian, and somehow that made it sadder.

It was the first time the news broke through my childhood innocence. Until that point, I never really cared, or was even aware, that anything of import happened outside of Amsterdam, New York. Hell, I didn’t care much beyond what went down in my backyard and bedroom. From that moment I was obsessed with everything to do with the explosion – the twin rocket boosters, the various theories as to what happened, and, most importantly, the seven men and women who lost their lives, including the first teacher who was supposed to go into space. I set up a photo album of news events, and it grew from the Challenger news to anything of importance.  I remember the stock market meltdown being one of the last items I pasted into the book – a couple years later I had no need for a book. It was occupying my head. It was an awakening, and while not altogether a pleasant one, it was necessary, it was inevitable, and I had no choice.

The best part of childhood – if you’ve had a decent one – is that for a few years you can pretend that nothing bad could ever happen in the world. If you’ve had that freedom, if you’ve had that moment, you might be ok. At least, you might have a chance. What we do with that chance is another story for another post.

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