Byron's Babbles

My Memories Matter

As I wrote the rough draft of this post I was on a plane taxiing to the runway at Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C. As I looked out window I saw the dome of our Capitol and the Washington Monument (see my pictures). This caused several moments of reflection. I thought about all 12 U.S. Presidents that have been in office since I was born. I thought about the Vietnam War that happened during my lifetime. I thought about President Nixon and his resignation. I thought about the first President I voted for, Ronald Reagan. I thought about the first Gulf War. I thought about 9/11. I thought about wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I thought about all the time my son Heath and I spent in Washington D.C. when he was growing up when I brought him with me to the Washington Leadership Conference of the National FFA Organization every year. I thought about getting to pay my respects to Ronald Reagan as he was lying in state in the Capitol rotunda. I thought about being with President Obama in the Oval Office. I thought about spending time with, then Vice President, Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden at Number One Observatory Circle. I thought about being awarded the Smithsonian Diffusion Award in the Smithsonian Castle. I thought about the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, and getting to stand at the Brandenburg Gate where President Reagan told Gorbachev to tear down the wall. I thought about being in Vice President Pence’s White House Office. A lot of memories were running through my mind. I realized I’ve experienced a lot in my almost six decades.

That’s a lot of history. That’s a lot of memories. But what does it all mean? Does living through all that matter? Yes, all those memories matter! Our memories make us who we are. They create our worldview in ways we hardly realize. It is why we must be always creating the situations to create memories for our children. We also need to be creating memories for our students. All that we have ever learned, from how to get along and play with others, how to read, and even how to resolve conflicts, makes us who we are. That is why who taught us and our experience of the things we have learned are all embedded in the memories themselves.

Our memories are essential because they allow us to grow and learn to be a better person. Our memories help us understand why we are who we are. When we understand why we are who we are, we become empowered to create ourselves intentionally. Oscar Wilde said, “Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us.” I am so glad that my peek out the airplane window caused me to open my mind’s diary and begin reflecting on who I am.

Space Shuttle Challenger: 35 Years Ago Today

It was 35 years ago today, January 28, 1986, that the United States space shuttle, Challenger, exploded shortly after launch. As I write this it is 11:38 a.m. Easter Standard Time; the exact time that the Challenger exploded. It was certainly one of those “remember where you were” moments in my life. I was in my very first year of teaching and was teaching a class of freshmen agriculture science students. We had turned on the television in the room right before launch to watch. It was such an exciting time because Christa McAuliffe was on her way to becoming the first ordinary U.S. civilian to travel into space. And, she was a teacher, chosen through the NASA Teacher in Space Project.

So, here I was watching liftoff with my students and 73 seconds after taking off, the Challenger exploded. This is the first time I have written about that experience during my first year of teaching. There was no teacher prep class that prepared me for this, no student teaching activity that allowed me to experience something like this, or no case study lesson that would have helped me answer the students’ questions. The quietness of the explosion was very confusing. We all watched in a kind of concerned silence. A few students asked what had happened. I didn’t answer, because I didn’t know. I had chills. I am getting chills right now as I think and write about it. The television reporters announced that the Challenger had exploded and after a few minutes I turned the television off. Honestly, I do not remember what I said or anything the students said after the explosion. I can remember up to and including the explosion, but after that it is very fuzzy. We were all stunned, confused, and devastated.

At 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time that evening President Ronald W. Reagan spoke to the nation and ended his remarks with some of the most moving words ever spoken: “The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.'” He was supposed to be giving the State of the Union address that evening. The State of the Union, for the first time in modern history, was postponed.

As a teacher, another part of what President Reagan said really spoke to me and every other teacher and all the students of the United States: “And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle’s takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.” I love the thought of the future not belonging to the fainthearted. This was so true then and is very true today, and will always be true.

So today, as we reflect on that day 35 years ago, let us be brave, look to the future and not be afraid or fainthearted to do our part in advancing the horizons of this great world we live.