31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Shuttle Disaster - Profiles Of Real Courage

Single With Children: Shuttle tragedy is personal

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 02/12/03

I'll never forget that day as long as I live. It's one of those moments that are branded in memory, the kind of event that is effortlessly replayed as though it happened just yesterday, when in fact it occurred 16 years ago.

I'm talking about the Challenger disaster. I remember that morning with clarity. I was 26 years old, and the mother of an active, spirited 21 1/2-year-old daughter. It would be two months before I learned that I had a son on the way. I remember thinking that what I was seeing on the television looked far too impossible to resemble any kind of reality. Sometimes it takes our minds a bit of time to accept what our eyes are trying to relay.

On Feb. 1 around 9 a.m., as I walked in the kitchen to get my first cup of coffee, I was stopped cold by the news flashing on the small television on the kitchen counter. Once again the unthinkable had happened. Sixteen minutes before gliding to a safe landing at Kennedy Space Center, our space program had experienced, in the nomenclature of NASA, a very bad day. Talk about an understatement.

Once again, after so many accident-free years and unremarkable missions, we were reminded that space travel is still a very risky business. This time, however, it was more personal. The commander was raised in a town I have grown to love and have called home. I didn't know Col. Rick Husband, who had been a student at the very same middle and high school my own kids have attended. I'd never exchanged a word with him, but somehow it wasn't required for me to feel a very personal sense of loss. I knew before the mission that one of Amarillo's own was leading this flight, and I felt the same pride that all of us who have called this wonderful city home no doubt shared. Amarillo was already "on the map" in my mind, but Col. Husband made it shine even more.

The Columbia disaster forced each of us, once again, to consider the fragility of life. It reminded us of what is so precious and meaningful. The loss of these seven brave souls left a nation in shock and mourning, and seven brave families will never be the same.

Like a lot of people, we sometimes forget that single-parent families aren't always the result of a legal decree handed down by the courts. Divorce is so common in our society that we forget that some in our ranks arrived at this place from very different, tragic circumstances. Sometimes parents become single, not as a result of an unhappy marriage that is deemed irreparable, but because of events that result in the loss of a much beloved spouse because of an illness or accident. There is a different type of grief attached to this and one that I haven't addressed in this column as I probably should have.

In the days and weeks ahead, those seven families whose mother and/or father's life was taken so tragically on Feb. 1, will face the monumental task of creating a new life. Undoubtedly, there will be times when it will feel excruciatingly unfair and will probably be one of the greatest challenges they will ever have to face. Along with the fragmented pieces of the shuttle that left a huge field of debris, the seven families left behind no doubt feel as equally shattered in the wake of this accident.

We didn't need to personally know Col. Husband or any of the crew, for that matter, to feel the pain we share as a collective nation and the admiration for people who choose to take a risk that can result in a better quality of life for those of us who remain earthbound. Space exploration and the experiments that can be achieved only in a sustained state of weightlessness have resulted in hundreds of positive contributions in the fields of medicine, physics and countless other disciplines that have positively impacted each of our lives.

In the days ahead, each of us, regardless of what our family situation is, should take some time to remember the seven families of the Columbia crew in our hearts and in our prayers. Perhaps it's a good opportunity to give special thanks for the family members in our lives and remember that every single one of them, even on the most frustrating of days, is an exquisite and unique gift that we have been given to love and cherish. Even, and perhaps especially, on the most ordinary of days, we should try and remind ourselves how extraordinarily blessed we are to have those closest to our hearts, illuminating our lives.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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