Tuesday, February 04, 2003

It's never too late to say 'I'm sorry'

Every so often, something happens that causes people to stop and take notice.

Saturday was one of those days. You know, the kind that people are going to remember where they were and what they were doing.

Another obvious one was Sept. 11.

The day Kennedy was shot stands out, too - of course, I wasn't anywhere, I was still a decade from birth, but you get the gist.

Usually these "where were you when" moments are sad and destructive.

But on Saturday, someone somewhere - probably right here in Lockport - found the space shuttle accident funny.

Disgusting, I know, but I'm certain it's true.

Because 17 years ago, On Jan. 28, 1986, when America lost her last space shuttle, I joked about it.

I was in sixth grade, 12 years old, still searching for who I was as a person.

I didn't take kindly to junior high - yes it was still junior high back then - and I developed a tough outer shell to hide my soft and bruised emotional inside.

Say something bad about me, I joked about it.

Something bad happened to me, I joked about it.

It was my defense mechanism. If I could turn it around, it wouldn't hurt me.

Soon, I was making jokes about things that were way off limits.

So on that Tuesday nearly two decades ago, when I saw the Space Shuttle Challenger explode (I'm not sure why, but I recall watching it in school) I decided to find it humorous.

I recall the smoke billowing from what was once a spaceship. It looked like a scorpion to me. I can't fathom now why I found that funny then, but I did.

And I wasn't alone. I remember friends of mine from school - acquaintences really, not friends - also thinking it funny.

And when I came home from school, I remember joking to my mother. I laid my hand flat on top of my other hand and pushed it upward to the sky - as if it were a space shuttle itself - and then when it reached to about my mother's eye level, I made an explosion sound and sort of chuckled.

This was how I said "hi" to my mother on this horrible, terrible day.

The horror that struck her gaze stays with me still.

And it hit me: maybe this isn't funny after all.

I learned something about myself that day. I didn't like me.

And I learned something about my mother, having upset her so. I don't think she liked me that day either.

And in the years since, I learned something about America and her love for the space program.

And this past Saturday as I watched this terror unfold before my eyes, I was saddened for the seven men and women that sacrificed their lives for a goal that I still don't fully comprehend.

And I was saddened once again for the seven men who lost their lives in January of 1986.

And I was sad that my daughter Emily didn't understand exactly what it was that she was seeing.

And I was sad that I had never told this story before.

And in 17 years, I've never said what I'm about to, but I should have.

To Commander Francis R. Scobee, Pilot Michael J. Smith, Mission Specialists Judith A. Resnik, Ellison S. Onizuka, Ronald E. McNair, Payload Specialists Gregory B. Jarvis, and Sharon Christa McAuliffe, after 17 long years, can you please forgive me? I've come a long way since then.