Thursday, January 27, 2011

HERstory (It's not always HIStory)

The silence of the frosted air offered me time to reflect and refresh my mind. It's a rare day in the middle of Kansas in the dead of winter when I can sit outside and hear every chirp and tweet that nature produces. There was no whirling nor stirring in the air, the prairie grasses stood golden in the sun's early rays. I smiled, giving thanks to the silence that has become so golden for me after years of teaching and raising children.

Suddenly, the silence was broken by a series of jets booming across our skies. I scanned the skies in search of the vibrating noises, seeing only contrails and clouds. It as then that my mind wondered to a flat basin of land in Florida that gives rise to man's quest for space. I've never been to Cape Canaveral to the witness the beauty of nature confronted with man's curiosity and yearning to move beyond. Someday, I'd like to witness first hand man's endeavor to explore and fly.

Even now, twenty-five years later, I still speak with pride at our mission to send a teacher into space. They first advertised it as a storyteller going into space. Deep down in my soul I knew this opportunity to fly, to see our giant earth and tell it's stories from a newer perspective would only come once in my life. I was eager to apply.

Then one evening as I sat down to dinner, our three teens were being very argumentative. Glaring at one child and with the growl of a mother bear I explained we'd talk later. Turning back to the kids I uttered these words in a garbled tone, "I know because of divorce Jack and I are only one mother and one dad, but now we are family. We share this home together under one roof. We all have to work together to create a family we can all be a part of, no matter what." Later that night I knew I'd never apply for the "Teacher in Space" program. My children and husband needed me and I had a purpose.

When at last Christa McAuliffe and the crew of the Challenger took flight that morning over twenty-five years ago, I was there in spirit. As a librarian at Jefferson Elementary in Norman, OK, I had proudly arranged for every child, teacher, and staff to be in front of a TV when the Challenger rocketed into space that morning.

Eager eyes and wiggly bodies of fifty kindergarten children sat in the library that day watching and counting backwards from ten. At liftoff their voices began to rise in awe as the space shuttle slowing climbed toward space. Then it was our eyes that showed confusion. Instead of the continual upwards motion the Challenger made a sudden descending twist toward earth. Fifty-little bodies froze in silence and confusion, eyes shifting from screen to teachers. I'll never forget the look on my beloved friend's face, Lois Cowles, as she stood that day and gently coached her little ones to stand and walk back to class.

It was a day without answers as our building, community, and nation went forth with our tasks stunned and confused. Teaching and learning took place in silent words and broken dreams. Some will say that mission is now part of history, but I prefer to think it was the creation of herstory, not his.

So a morning toast to you Christa McAuliffe and all of those strong women who have lived and loved and gone before.

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