The space shuttle exploded sometime between the end of Algebra 1 and the beginning of English. We were at lunch, eating sandwiches and flirting madly as the shuttle burned. I found out in the hallway on the way to class. “Did you hear?” “Have you heard?” The news was almost gossip. When our English teacher – Mrs. Barkman, impossibly old – let us in, her eyes were red-rimmed and glistening.
“I imagine you’ve all heard,” she snapped. We watched the fiery footage, then she promptly told us to spend the period writing about the disaster. If memory serves, Mrs. Barkman just sat at the front of the class, stunned.
I was 14. During what remained of our 53 minutes, I wrote a well-reasoned piece about how the astronauts knew the risks they were taking and how sometimes progress requires setbacks. I explained that while it was sad, it wasn’t really *that* sad because, you know, space travel is dangerous.
I wasn’t unmoved, exactly; I was more caught off-guard. The disaster felt unreal and distant. The space shuttle was so much bigger than me that I couldn’t really see it.
Today, as Notre Dame de Paris burned, I could see all too clearly. I remembered my moments there: climbing the bell towers with students; savoring ice cream nearby with friends; exploring the interior with family; kissing lovers in the shadows of the buttresses; sitting in quiet awe of the hushed silence that kept the space holy even as tourists paraded through. Today, I felt the history in the stones as they tumbled, knew the destruction of the stories, understood the devastation of a people. Today, the fire at Notre Dame rose in me until my tears flowed for what we have lost, for what we can lose, for what we will, inevitably, lose.
Today, 33 years after Mrs Barkman wept, I mourn with her. Together, across the years, we weep for the unflagging courage of our dreams and for the devastation of their loss.