Saturday, January 28, 2012

remembering Challenger...beginnings ended

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

Last year on January 28, like every year since 1986, when I see the news broadcasts which replay the Challenger explosion...I, like everyone who was alive on that day, go back to where I was when it happened...where I was physically and emotionally...but this year the memory has expanded to include the blog I wrote last year on January 28, and being able to connect with the little boy who held my hand that day.

Little did we know last year on January 28, that my experience from that time so many years before, would be repeated in our daughter's life just a few weeks later...Tracy expressed her feelings so well in her own blog on February 23, 2011...this is how it feels to be held...and now, this year, she and her husband, Zac, are expecting a little boy, Colton Michael, on April 4, 2012...we can't wait to be grandparents!

I have included below the blog I wrote last year, and my correspondence since last January with the little boy, Nathan Connell, who held my hand that fateful day...

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…”

February 17, 2011, 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, 2011, Response 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 on 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!

What about you, where were you on January 28, 1986?

(c) 2012 beth willis miller


  1. Dear Beth,
    It felt as if I were there by the description you gave of that fateful day. What precious words from that little guy. Doesn't it say somewhere that a child will lead us? Your writing is like a beautiful painting.

  2. Thank you for your comments, are my mentor in writing...I so value your feedback! It has been so personally fulfilling to me to allow my feelings to come to the surface and express them through writing on this is so amazing how we can reach across the years and across the miles to make connections through the miracle of technology. You are a blessing from the Lord!


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