STREAKS IN HEAVEN I drove to work this morning with the intention of doing the same thing I’ve done every Monday for the past year. I’d put together a few opinions, maybe some analysis on the latest developments, heroes, winners and losers from the world of sports. A little sugar-coated cyber-cereal, if you will, to enjoy with your week’s first cup of coffee. I couldn’t do it. Just couldn’t hit the right keystrokes. Not after seeing seven international heroes -- from the world of mankind, mind you -- reduced to fiery streaks in an otherwise cloudless blue sky. My grief -- first for the families of the lost astronauts, and then for the rest of us -- is such that “winners” and “losers” occupy a different place today. I was not quite 17 when the Challenger exploded after takeoff in January 1986. Sitting in a high school study hall as one of the most valuable science lessons I’ve ever been taught was delivered with a shiver and a chill. Technology -- even on a level the vast majority of us can’t begin to comprehend -- is a gamble, a risk, yes, a challenge. We jokingly refer to ideas beyond our grasp as “rocket science,” taking for granted the fact that rocket scientists are at work as we giggle, play, tune in the big game. These heroes are at work on the kind of research and exploration that allow us to better understand our planet, our galaxy, our universe . . . ourselves. Know where I was when I learned of the Columbia tragedy? The Pyramid. University of Memphis vs. Southern Miss, my three-year-old daughter’s first foray into Tiger Nation . . . a special day indeed. Sofia had her pompom, a tub of popcorn, and her eyes darting between cheerleaders, mini-blimps, and good old Pouncer the mascot. The public address announcer mentioned the disaster in asking the crowd to rise for the national anthem. The allusion to seven fallen astronauts was disorienting as my attention was on getting my daughter safely to her seat. Once in our seats, the first emotion I felt was shame. I was ashamed that I honestly didn’t know the space shuttle was to land that day. The very fact that the shuttle was on a mission was dangling to the periphery of my consciousness. Was this a credit to NASA and the more than 100 “routine” shuttle missions it has completed without a loss of life? Or was it a pitifully ignorant display of one person who has lost track of just how high and far the human mind can reach? My heart squeezed when I saw the faces of our seven lost heroes. I wish I had taken the time to know them before they became martyrs. Michael Anderson. David Brown. Kalpana Chawla. Laurel Clark. Rick Husband. William McCool. Ilan Ramon. These names will live forever in some circles. Small, tight circles. For most of us, they’ll fade with the years. We’ll certainly remember their collective tragedy, but will their lives and achievements garner the adulation of Jordan, Ali, Tiger, the Babe? Thank god for sports. Living, breathing, crowd pleasing comic books. With standings, no less. Easy-to-find heroes, with colors we can wear, images we can frame. Real life, alas, brings such a heavy hand with its heroes. So very hard to find on earth, our eyes are already wet with tears by the time we see them -- flying -- in the heavens.

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