Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[personal|culture] On bad news

Today is the twenty-third anniversary of the Challenger disaster. I was walking from one building to the other at my workplace, my senior year in college. A small locksmith was located between the two. Glancing in, I saw several people at the counter staring at a white column of smoke on the television. I'd like to say I understood in an instant (as in fact I did when I first glimpsed the news of Columbia's death seventeen years later), but all I knew in that moment was that something unusual had happened.

One way of looking at life is that it is made of disasters. Everyone is born in a rush of light and noise and separation, everyone dies eventually, everyone's heart breaks along the way, we all pass times alone and in pain. Language Log talks today about giving the bad news, in that case terminal cancer diagnosis. My own cancer experience this past year wasn't terminal, far from it, but being told I had cancer was one of the most frightening experiences of my life, and I remember vividly the doctors coming, vaguely embarrassed, unhappy, bearing words their lips did not want to pour into my ear.

But my disaster would have been intensely private, confined to me and those who know me and love me. STS-51-L played theirs out on a very public stage. Intensely private for each of the seven crew, as all deaths are — the ultimate intimacy — but exposed to the watching world.

Another way of looking at life is that it is made of miracles. We are born into the waiting world, we pass on after a lifetime of experience, with even a little of luck we live and love and follow our hearts. That's the way I imagine the Challenger seven would want to be remembered. Not for their last moments, but for their best moments.

And, because it seems fitting this day, here's my Challenger story, "The Angle of My Dreams."

Originally published at jlake.com.

Tags: cancer, culture, language, personal, science, stories

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