Sunday, January 27, 2013

challenger...past memories...present joy

For the past two years on January 28th, I have shared my memories and events surrounding the Challenger explosion in 1986…

In 2012, we have had the joy of celebrating the birth of our first grandchild, Colton, on April 5…he is truly the light of our lives…such a joy to watch him grow and develop! In 2012, our daughter, Tracy, has added two entries to her own blog to express her feelings regarding the weeks leading up to and following Colton’s birth…do the next thing and getting out of the house

In January 2013, I visited Lake Wales and returned to the little brick school building where I held the hand of a little kindergartener, Nathan Connell, some 27 years ago on January 28, 1986...

Every year on January 28 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 on January 28, 2011, and being able to connect with the little boy who held my hand that day.

On January 28, 2011, I had no idea 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...

I have included below the blog I wrote in 2011, 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...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, 2011, 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!"


  1. Amazing story. Thank you so much for sharing! And how did that young man discover your blog after so many years? That is remarkable! Yes, I remember that day as well. We were living in Georgia, where my husband was a teacher and a pastor of a small church. For some reason, we were out of school that day, I think because it was so cold. We actually were visiting with some friends from our church, and just as we were leaving, the TV announced that the Challenger had blown up. I just remember feeling so devastated and horrified by this, and overwhelmed with feelings of sorrow for these people and their families. Nothing has affected me like that since...except 9-11. Wow. Thank you for remembering these ones who sacrificed their lives for our country that day.

    1. Pamela, thank you so much for your thoughtful comments! I actually looked Nathan up on Facebook and sent him the link to my blog post about Challenger ... he graciously agreed to allow me to put his comments on my blog ... how wonderful it is to have warm memories and contacts even around an event as tragic as Challenger ... thank you, again, for your comments :)


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