Unchartered Times

The Challenger space shuttle explodes on January 28, 1986

Recently I have been thinking of the defining times of my life. The big events that mark a time and place where I remember exactly what was happening around me as the world was changing. The first big one was the Challenger explosion. I was a senior in high school in January 1986 and we were gathered around the lone television in the school library which sat on a tall media cart. By today’s standards, it was a small, boxy television and we were all trying to get a good look at the very first civilian to go into space, Chris McAuliffe, a teacher we all might aim to be someday. And then it exploded and someone quickly went to the front of the room and the box went dark. We sat in silence, not believing what had just happened. How could it be? A moment that was much anticipated had been over in a disastrous instant.

And then of course, there was 9/11 which put that moment of national disaster into perspective as we learned more with each moment that passed, what felt like the longest day of our collective lives. I was driving into work and pulling into a parking spot just as the first plane hit. I worked in the newsroom of the local daily paper and was in the habit of listening to talk radio as many of us did back then. The host broke in to tell us about the plane but he thought it might have been an accident, a one off where the pilot made a grave error due to a medical emergency. And then we found out it wasn’t an accident. There were more planes and the death toll rose as the days passed. I managed to walk into work that morning but I don’t recall getting anything done. My boss, the Editor, rallied everyone around to take charge of our coverage of the event and I did my small part and made sure these reporters and editors who had come in that day to cover a primary election race that was not to happen, were well fed as they worked the local angles of the events unfolding. I spent the day reading wire reports and watching the news on various televisions placed throughout the vast room. And then I went home and like a zombie, feeling helpless and numb about what was happening around us, watched the non-stop coverage of the events. People jumping out of windows, flames pouring from buildings, and finally the buildings themselves crumbling to the ground.

But this is different. There was not one event we can point to and collectively mourn together. Many of us do not even know what this silent enemy is going to do by the time it is all over. How many will come to the brink of death? How many will die? How many will be forever be marked by this anxious, uncertain time for years to come? How many do not even take it seriously yet when we are several weeks into a pandemic that is spreading it’s invisible poison among us? Who has it, we silently ask ourselves as we try to carry on as if life hasn’t changed in every way around us. What is still yet to come? The only hope we have is our resilience. That we can come back from hard times as our ancestors have done throughout time. We are not being asked much. We are not being asked to go behind enemy lines. We are not being asked to board trains to an uncertain death. We are simply being asked to stay put and keep this invisible enemy from spreading. We are being asked to amuse ourselves which is no small task given that we have become used to a freedom that has been earned by the people who have gone before us. Let’s do our part now so that we can get back to life as we once knew it.