February 2, 2011

Finding Inspiration in Tragedy

Deuth,-Dave-colorBy David W. Deuth, CFSP
President, Weerts Funeral Home

Eight years ago, on February 1, 2003, 16 minutes before it was scheduled to land, the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart in the skies over west Texas, killing all seven crew members on board. A stunned nation – yes, a stunned world – watched the events unfold before their eyes on television. Six American astronauts, along with an Israeli astronaut companion, lost their lives as the spacecraft exploded upon re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere.

I was in college when Space Shuttle Challenger exploded during liftoff in 1986. The profound sadness and deep sorrow I experienced then resurfaced in an all-too-familiar way as I watched the Columbia break apart in the foothills of the heavens some 17 years later. In both instances, I found myself truly bereaved for people I have never personally known, but whose lives – in their deaths – made me more aware of the inherent closeness of all mankind.

We placed an online obituary on our funeral home website when the Columbia tragedy occurred. Many people from all around the Quad Cities left words of condolence and support to the families of the astronauts; we forwarded all of those words of support directly to NASA for distribution to the astronaut’s families back in 2003.

One message in particular brought my heart to its knees. It was written by a young boy – seven years old at the time – who found an inspiration in this tragedy that claimed the astronaut’s lives. Here are his own words, misspellings and all, just as he wrote them eight years ago:

Andrew (Iowa) – 2/3/2003
HI. I am an 7 year old boy and I just want to tell you and your families that I am very sorry that your family members died in the spaceship. They are and will always be my hereos. When I grow up I am going to be a spaceman and help to make Earth a good place to live. I want to be just the spacemen on the spaceship. May God be with yhou through your time of need. I hope, no, I someday will be on a spaceship just like your family was. I hope that I do them proud. Thank you for giving our country such wonderful heroes. It means a lot to me that I will follow in the footsteps of these 7 hereos. May they rest in peace for all of eternity. Love, Andrew

At the tender age of seven, Andrew connected some dots in a way that many adults have never been able to do: he began to realize that he could honor the memory of the astronauts he so admired by living his life in such a way as to keep carrying their torch . . . to keep running their race . . . to keep reaching for the sky, as it were.

Despite the fact the Space Shuttle program is slated to conclude this year, NASA will no doubt further its space exploration programs with new and innovative missions into the future. And perhaps Andrew will one day be a part of that. I sincerely hope that he can.

Keep reaching for the sky, Andrew. You’ll continue to honor the memory of your heroes as you do. And you’ll inspire the rest of us along the way.

That’s Remembering Well.