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Saturday, February 1, 2003

When our tools fail and words do not console.

The loss of the space shuttle Columbia this morning cuts deeply. I was ten years old, an avid space fan, when I got up before dawn to watch the Columbia's first launch in 1981. I watched almost every shuttle launch as a boy, until they had become so perfunctory, so flawless, that they weren't televised anymore. And of course I remember the shock that swept through my school, where so many of us were watching when the Challenger exploded. That disaster was a generation-defining event for us; our dreams had accompanied schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe that morning, and our own teachers struggled to help us comprehend the fireball, the wayward rockets, the shock on the faces below.

Our tools have made it possible for human beings to go so far beyond our animal limits that we are tempted to believe we have transcended them altogether. And then a simple failure — the vessel breaks, the machine falters — and human beings are left beyond the limits of their endurance. The rest of us, watching dumbfounded, ache with the loss of what we love most — not the tools, not their victory over nature, but human beings on their way home to us. The shock on the faces of the astronauts' families is what we ultimately feel most. Our tools, and our words, are humbled by this final reality, and we grieve.

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 1 February 2003 at 5:11 PM

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