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|'These are the days of miracle and wonder' ...|
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|Posted by:||Feb 4th 2003, 02:56:18 pm|
|Colin||I sent this round my email list yesetrday as it captures so well what I think most of us feel. What a grand gift to be able to craft such a fine set of words, laden with so much grace and insight.
What with war looming in Iraq and North Korea pushing too many buttons, it's almost a relief to focus on something so simple in its horror.
Ah, to be in Briland, sipping a Goombay and listening to daily gossip, laden with so much spice, decency and common sense.
|Posted by:||Feb 4th 2003, 02:34:58 pm|
....And God bless and bless and bless your soul for taking the time to write such a beautiful tribute. Ken Smith
|Posted by:||Feb 2nd 2003, 04:02:56 pm|
|Fig Tree News Team||http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/pnoonan/
'The Days of Miracle and Wonder'
The Columbia's loss is a searing reminder of American heroism.
Saturday, February 1, 2003 3:38 p.m.
"The Columbia is lost. There are no survivors." Blunt words spoken softly by
President Bush this afternoon. He spoke of how easy it is for all of us to
"overlook the dangers of travel by rocket. . . . These astronauts knew the
dangers, and they faced them willingly." He spoke of why "mankind is led into
the darkness," and he promised that "our journey into space will go on."
" 'Lift your eyes and look to the heavens,' " he said, quoting Isaiah. "The
same Creator who names the stars knows the names of the seven souls we mourn
His remarks were explicitly God-based, and that seemed just right. At moments
like this presidents fall back on their primary thought-stream. Mr. Bush went
straight to the spiritual.
Oh my, it is painful. The parents of astronaut David Brown were just on
television, live, early in the afternoon of the day their son died. Mr. Brown
said his son had told him he dreamed of going to Mars. He added that all Dave's
flight friends wanted a Mars journey. David Brown's parents spoke with a
helpful air, with pained poise, of their son who had died in the morning.
Thrown back by life and trying to be helpful. You wonder where astronaut David
Brown got his guts? Meet Mr. and Mrs. Brown of Arlington. Va.
It sends you back, doesn't it? You see the broken line of vapor against the
blue sky and hear the voices anchormen get when they have to ad lib disaster,
and it takes you back to that winter day 17 years ago when America was
horrified to see a spacecraft blow up before its eyes.
But this one is different, in so many ways.
We weren't watching it take off, live, we were watching it come back in, only
we weren't watching because we've grown so used to marvels. I think of a
hundred-year-old lady who told a friend of mine of the day that when she was
young, she saw an airplane for the first time. She had been dining with friends
at an outdoor club and a plane--this amazing machine--came and landed on the
rolling lawns beyond. They ran out from the lunch table in great excitement,
touched the plane, felt amazement. "What did you do then?" my friend asked. "We
went inside and finished lunch," she replied. That's what people do with
marvels, they see, absorb and return to life. That's what we were doing while
the space program was going on the past few years: We were eating lunch.
The Challenger broke up over the ocean, this one over land. The air this time
on the TV screen was pale, not the painful rich blue that framed the vivid
cloud of what had been the Challenger.
Back then it was a shock. This time it is too, though one we've experienced
"These are the days of miracle and wonder," sang Paul Simon in the 1980s. It
ran through my head all morning, from out of nowhere, and I think I know why.
It has to do with the impossibility, the sheer implausibility, of the facts. We
are on the verge of war in the Mideast, a war springing in its modern origins
from the tensions of the Arab-Israeli conflict; our president, a Texan,
believes we must move on Iraq. The space shuttle that broke up today carried,
for the first time ever, a Mideastern astronaut, an Israeli who won fame when
he led a daring raid on a nuclear reactor in Iraq, 20 years ago. The shuttle
broke up over the president's home state, Texas. The center of the debris field
appears to be a little town called Palestine.
If Tom Clancy wrote this in one of his novels--heck, if Tim LaHaye wrote this
in one of his Left Behind books--his editor would call him and say, "We're
thinking this may be too over the top."
The morning the Challenger blew up, President Reagan was meeting with a handful
of network anchors, giving them a preview of his State of the Union address,
which was to be given that night. The president got the news of the explosion
and spoke of the tragedy with the anchors, who asked him questions. Their
conversation was witnessed by a staffer in the National Security Council, who
took notes. She ran them into the speechwriting office. The notes became the
basis of the Challenger speech, which the president gave later that day.
He ended with famous words from a famous World War II-era poem written by Pilot
Officer John Gillespie Magee Jr., an American citizen who gave his life with
the Royal Canadian Air Force at the beginning of the war, before America was
I felt in my heart that Mr. Reagan knew that poem, and that if he did he would
want to use it. He did know it. He told me afterward that it was written on a
plaque at his daughter Patti's school when she was a kid. He used to go and
read it. I was later told that Mr. Reagan had in fact read the poem at the
funeral or at a memorial for his friend Tyrone Power, who had been a World War
This is the poem. It's called "High Flight":
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds--and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of--wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence, hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along,
And flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
The morning the Challenger blew up, the grade-school daughter of Ronald
Reagan's chief speechwriter, Ben Elliott, was spending the day with her father
in the White House. She came into my office, this little blond child, and said
softly that the teacher was on the Challenger. Is the teacher OK? I realized:
schoolchildren across the country were watching the Challenger go up, they were
watching on TV sets and in auditoriums, because Christa McAuliffe, the first
teacher in space, was on the flight. The children saw it all. It was supposed
to be part of American schoolchildren learning about space, that's why the
schools were showing it live. It was a learning tool.
Well it was, and the children learned more than anyone would have expected.
They got a lesson in bravery, on why men go forth into space, on what it means
to push forward, and what courage it takes. What it is to be an American
Today the tragedy feels less like something that teaches than something that
reminds. We were reminded of what we know. President Bush referred to it when
he lauded the astronauts' courage. We forget to notice the everyday courage of
astronauts. We forget to think about all the Americans doing big and dangerous
things in the world--members of the armed forces, cops and firemen, doctors in
public hospitals in hard places. And now, famously again, astronauts. With
their unremarked-upon valor and cool professionalism. With their desire to make
progress and push on.
Buzz Aldrin captured it this morning. He tried to read a poem about astronauts
on television. He read these words: "As they passed from us to glory, riding
fire in the sky." And tough old Buzz, steely-eyed rocket man and veteran of the
moon, began to weep.
He was not alone.
God bless and bless and bless their souls, and rest their souls in the morning.
Ms. Noonan is a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal. Her most recent
book, "When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan," is published by
Viking Penguin. You can buy it from the OpinionJournal bookstore. Her column
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