Saturday, January 29, 2011

beginnings ended

Challenger explosion 1-28-86 at 11:38 a.m.

It was Tuesday, January 28, 1986, at 11:38 a.m. This was my first day back at school as a teacher of children in the gifted education program since having a miscarriage at 10 weeks gestation one week before.
Our little school building, the East Area Alpha Center, was located high on a ridge in Lake Wales, Florida. Tuesdays were the days that all the kindergarten and first grade students in the gifted program from Davenport all the way down the ridge to Frostproof were brought to our little center in Lake Wales to participate in a creative and critical thinking curriculum.
I took the hand of Nathan Connell, a bright-eyed, brown-haired kindergartener who was wise beyond his years. I was wearing my London Fog trench coat with the lining zipped in on this unusually cold Florida morning. We joined the 45 other students and two other teachers out on the lawn of the school and we all were looking up. The sky was a brilliant cerulean blue. We watched Challenger rise into the sky, the bright orange glow of its rockets and white plume of smoke below the orange glow.
Suddenly, as Nathan and I held hands and watched, the orange glow exploded and the white plumes of smoke were diverging vertically from above the orange glow. It was unlike any shuttle launch we had seen before, was it a second stage rocket booster?
I looked down at Nathan’s knowing expression with his eyes glued to the Challenger and he said, “I hope the astronauts had parachutes.” We were outside, we had no TV or radio announcer to provide commentary. But Nathan knew. The glorious beginning had ended.
I wrote in my journal that evening…“I feel empty…beginnings ended…nerve endings of emotion…raw, open, exposed…longings of my heart…reaching out, vulnerable…soft to the touch…aching need, grieving for what is lost, for what could have been…”

(c) 2011 beth willis miller


  1. February 17 Comment via Facebook
    from Nathan Connell

    Dear Beth,

    You cannot imagine how overcome with emotion I was to read that blog post. I remember that day and I remember it with such clarity.

    I'm now a physician in Rhode Island, having just finished my internal medicine residency. This summer, I'm starting a fellowship in hematology and oncology so I'll be working in the cancer center here at Brown University's teaching hospitals.

    Thank you so much for reaching out and thank you for everything you did for me that day and during my time as your student.

    Keep in touch...

    February 19-Response from Beth Willis Miller
    to Nathan Connell

    Nathan, thank you so much for your kind words,they mean so much to me...there are those moments in our lives that we do remember with such clarity, probably because of the emotions involved...every year on January 28 when the news programs replay the video of Challenger and ask "Where were you..." I go right back there to Lake Wales, holding your sweet little hand...this year I felt led to write about it my blog...with your permission, I would like to add your comments above to my have made wonderfully wise choices with your life, and I know you will be a blessing to the hematology and oncology patients at the cancer center...our lives are so short, no matter how many years we live...blessings, beth

    February 21 Response from Nathan Connell:
    Of course, please feel free to use my comments however you wish and again, thank you for everything you've done for me!



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