A Peace Corps friend, Michelle Doyle, posted that today is the 29th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. She remembers her teacher-counterparts telling her and crying. We were all in Tunisia that year. All of us, I have no doubt, remember. We were trying to fit in far from home and help people amid many political tensions in the world. Even if everyone around us was not in agreement on politics or cultural norms, the Challenger was something to agree on, I thought. The crew was a secret pride for me. Christa McAuliffe. Just that name made me smile.
She was the darling of the media. But before that, she made her hometown proud. A mother. A wife. A teacher. A volunteer. The best of us, really. In Newsweek yesterday, Mike Pride reported this, something she said, from his journal of that time: “I think the students will say that an ordinary person is contributing to history, and if they can make that connection, they are going to get excited about history and about the future.” Over and over, Pride reminds us in Newsweek, she said, “If I can do this, think what you can do.”
Then, a little more than one minute, just one minute, after liftoff, it was over.
They told me about the explosion while I stood on the dun colored ground in Kairowan. Flat topped white houses were there, markets were there, sandwich sellers, too. There was color, I know. But I remember the dun.
The female head of the Union de Femme where I worked, leaned in, watched my eyes cloud as I was told. Ohhh. Then, as she turned, I caught a slight pleasure flit across her face.
I was stunned by her. Stunned, too by the idea that bits of the Challenger would come down for a while, maybe days, over many miles. I was devastated by the children watching, devastated, too, by the ice sculptures of rocket ships planned by McAuliffe’s home state for her return. In the almost-desert of Kairowan, some 5,500 miles from home, I felt unmoored.
I’m just not buying that McAuliffe nor any of the crew was ordinary. And, I’m not buying that most of the people in Tunisia, the ones that saw connection between people as a stronger tie than politics, the ones like my friend Michelle’s teaching peers, found any pleasure in that particular day, and that particular death, and of a particular hope.
For Mike Pride’s Newsweek article see: