symbols and heroes


Why does the loss of the shuttle, and the seven astronauts aboard it, affect people the way it does? Why do I feel a sense of loss over the deaths of these seven people, whom I've never met, when I don't feel an equal sense of loss over the innocent people who die in my city, in my country, in my world, every day? Why does it strike me as right, and proper, to fly flags at half-mast in recognition of this loss, and not fly them at half-mast daily because of the many lives cut short for no good reason?

It's not the deaths of these seven men and women that I'm mourning. It's the loss of seven heroes, of seven symbols of humankind's unending urge to explore, to cross the boundaries, to see and know more than we already do. The astronauts are the clearest symbols to all of us--especially our children--of the reasons we push ourselves to learn and explore.

As Glenn Reynolds says "It's not that astronauts' lives are worth more than those of anyone else; it's what they do, and what it stands for."

When we lose a symbol--the twin towers, the space shuttle, a president or leader--it affects us differently than the day-to-day tragedies of life. The loss goes beyond the people, to the ideas and hopes and dreams. People like Dorothea Salo and William Gibson (and many others, I'm sure) share their childhood memories of the ideas and reality of space travel. As a post-boomer, I just barely remember the first moon landing--but I do remember it. And I vividly remember where I was and what I was doing when the Challenger exploded. These are historic events, events that shape our memories, and those of our children. (My six-year-old asked how many of the astronauts were moms and dads. Later in the day, he took apart his 3D puzzle model of the Discovery shuttle. Yes, he'll remember.)

While I've never been all that fascinated by the space program, I found myself shaken by yesterday's tragedy. And while I can understand that not everyone shares my sense of pain and loss, there are some things that are beyond my comprehension.

Jeneane, whose writing I generally love and respect, says about the debris:

Anything that lands in my yard is mine.

If it falls on my street, and no one's looking, and it's a small piece, I take it. I put it in a baggie in the garage workshop and save it for Jenna to sell on ebay when she needs money for school.

I am a capitalist by nature. I was unworried by the reports of toxicity. The official bunch standing around the debris didn't look too worried about toxicity. I might be worried they'd shoot me though.

I do not believe the little piece I would take would make any difference in finding out what happened. They have reams of data for that.

Sometimes I am slimey like this. And I don't mind. At least I admit I'd do it. That's something.

I was shaken, deeply, by this. I'm appalled by the belief that profiting from tragedy--no matter how removed you feel from that tragedy--is a legitimate expression of "capitalism." I'm trying to imagine how Jeneane's daughter would feel, years from now, if her "money for school" was acquired through the sale of this debris. I'm wondering if Jeneane's belief that "anything that lands in her yard is hers" extends to human remains--heck, those are probably worth even more, right? Likely to fetch a bundle on ebay from collectors.

Why this makes me so angry, I'm not sure. I suppose it's because it comes from someone's whose writings I trust--someone who writes so beautifully about her relationship with her daughter, her frustrations with injustice. It's hard to reconcile this self-described "slimey" statement with the person I feel as though I've come to know through her writing.

Update, 2/4/03, 10:35am
Jeneane responds to my post, and I've replied in her comments. Shelley wrote about my response, too, and I briefly responded in her comments. We need a better way of integrating comments into the web of trackbacks and pings...


Yah, I know, I even surprised myself. I thought about it for half a day. Walked around my yard. And said, well, yes, if it landed here I'd keep it.

Something obviously bones, human remains? No, those belong to the families. But a small hunk of metal from the shuttle? Yes, I still think I would. Keep it.

I live in Georgia. The debris could have fallen in my neck of the woods. Also could have fallen on my house, my daughter. No one knew as it was raining down how big, how many pieces, how dangerous for the folks on the ground--they were saying you could die within three days if you went near it. This is when I made my hypothetical decision.

Like I said, there's a side of me that surprises myself. Especially in "tragedy," which, if you've been through too many, sometimes you want to shake people and say, "THIS IS NOT YOUR TRAGEDY! SAVE YOUR GRIEF! YOU'RE GOING TO NEED IT!" That's the part of me that splits--says this is the family's tragedy. Not the nation. Not a personal Tragedy."

I'm not saying this is right--I'm saying it's how I think.

Yes, I know there is genuine sadness felt by some really good hearted people like you and Shelley. But it's not mine. I'm a bystander with metal potentially falling in my yard and potentially causing ME a real tragedy. This is when I get selfish.

A trauma trigger maybe. Self-defense. I dunno. And, sadly maybe, don't much care.

How d'ya like me so far?

I think we all need to feel some sadness for those who perished. People need to take a step back and ask the question "is pregress more important than Human Flesh?" I for one beleive that every time 1 person dies from trying to take 1 step forward in knowledge or technical advancement - the World takes 5 steps back. Human lives must remain the most important variable of consideration

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This page contains a single entry published on February 2, 2003 6:28 PM.

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