It’s hard to believe that it’s been 35 years since the disaster that claimed the lives of all seven Space Shuttle Challenger crew members.
I remember it well. Being sent home early without being told. Watching the TV news at home in silent shock with my parents and younger siblings, tears streaming down our faces.
President Reagan’s speech at Congress, made in the place of the traditional State of the Union address, ended with “they slipped the surly bonds of Earth…and touched the face of God.” Probably the finest and most decent thing he ever did (even my parents, who voted for Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale and intensely disliked Reagan and everything he stood for, couldn’t help but be moved by his words that day).
Thoughtless jokes circulated our school the next week or two. (“What’s the last thing Christa MacAuliffe said to her husband? “You feed the dog; I’ll feed the fish.”)
There was a morbid fascination with the way in which the Challenger crew met their fate. My friends came up with all sorts of gruesome stories they claimed to have “heard,” mostly about body parts washing up on beaches around the Caribbean.
The fact is, we were traumatized. Kids do all sorts of insane things to hide their fears, insecurity, and general inability to answer the question what am I supposed to feel/do/say about this?
Challenger marked a turning point in the US space program. It set NASA back in many ways but also provided great insight into what needed to be fixed, what needed to be done to push forward our knowledge of space and the great beyond.
There is/was no going back. Humanity is a space-faring race and must continue to strive to reach beyond its grasp…”Or what’s a heaven for?”
(In Chapter 6, Brady Cooper wondered about his fellow crewmates’ spirituality. If only he knew...)
Mugen. Mutoto. Muryou. Mushi. Mushuu.
That which is without beginning and without end, without limit and without volume, that which cannot be seen, touched, heard, smelled, or tasted, but whose presence can be sensed and felt in every tree, every rock, every stream and every hill. Everyone and everything. Everywhere.
We are all part of it, as it is what gives us life. We are all connected, we are all aspects of the Hataraki of the universe, the universe aware of itself and yet unaware of itself.
Legs crossed, right foot resting gently upside on her left knee, Sanvi Janes clasped her hands in front of her tanden, just below her diaphragm, and let out a slow, deep breath. Counting ten seconds, she paused, waited three more seconds, then slowly, deeply, breathed in for seven seconds. Hold. Three seconds. Exhale. Pause. Inhale. Hold. Repeat without thinking. Empty the mind. Clear the machine.
Sanvi had been practicing mushin, mind no mind meditation, for most of her adult life. Her parents had initially disapproved. Her father, a devout Lutheran, claimed it was simply her rejection of religion. Her mother, nominally Hindu but essentially non-practicing, said it represented an ancient, foolish attempt to recreate superstitious rites of the best-forgotten past. The then-college student Sanvi had mocked them both as sticks in the mud. What did they know about the Path and the Way? What did they know about the true nature of things? After her younger brother Aaron had died — asphyxiation, of a faulty airsuit during the move to the Lunar Base — they had no right to force her to trust their archaic belief systems. Martial arts and meditation had given her something her parents never could: a centered self. She started training as a hobby, then for health, but eventually it became her life.
Inhale. Hold. Exhale. Pause. Repeat.
“What’s the point of meditation?” her father had asked, sarcastically. “Does God talk to you directly?”
“There is no God,” Sanvi insisted stubbornly. “There is no Heaven. No Hell. There just is.”
“You think you’re so much smarter now,” his response. “So much smarter than your poor old parents, clinging to their old-fashioned beliefs in something better than ourselves, something higher.”
No, it wasn’t like that. It was not a rejection of an ideal. It was a vision.
“I don’t understand,” her mother said, bemoaning her daughter’s martial arts practices. “You say you seek deeper understanding, yet this comes with all the kicking and punching and throwing of other people. You come home with ugly purple bruises all over. Is this Enlightenment?”
Sanvi shook her head, trying to clear the images, the words, the emotions. Peaceful mind, empty the thoughts, don’t even think of thinking.
Inhale. Hold. Exhale. Pause. Repeat.
Another image floated out from her memories. The first time she witnessed the paired forms practice, the first time she observed the group meditation at a college training hall.
She remembered how violent, how quick, yet how graceful and fluid the motions looked. The poise and mutual respect, the utter confidence the sparring partners showed. Tension as the two faced each other, the split second silence of staring, as if they could read each other’s souls. The shuffling of the cotton uniforms and bare-foot gliding steps. The snap of the leg, arm block and counter-move. The takedown throw and roll of the thrown, bouncing effortlessly back on their feet and facing off again.
She wanted that poise. Needed that grace.
“It’s not a block,” her shido-shi told her much later. “It is a reception. Receive the blow. Accept it. Use it. Transform it into a self-expression.”
After years of practice, first as a student, then even as a lower ranking teacher, she still didn’t fully understand. The forms, the breathing, the mind over substance, the teachings.
Complete understanding remained as elusive as ever, just beyond her grasp.
Silently, feeling her tanden expand and contract as she slipped further into no-mind, she heard the words:
Rightness of thought.
Rightness of speech.
Rightness of deed.
Rightness of mind.
Rightness of understanding…
Her face flushed, her body trembling with adrenaline, Sanvi stood in the middle of the concrete floor, facing off her opponent, a fellow kenshi from her biochemical engineering lab. Seconds into the session, Sanvi knew she could best the man. She was faster, her techniques were sharper.
A half-second pause, and the two moved. She saw the foot, then the hand, but she had underestimated the angle of the incoming fist. It glanced off her faceguard as she twisted her torso to avoid the blow. In fury at herself, she seized the leg and threw. Not waiting for him to regain his footing, she advanced, intending to pommel him from behind. He fell, rolled, crouched and instinctively raised a hand to ward off the next incoming blow. Sanvi came back to herself before she finished the strike and heard her voice.
“Sorry, sorry! Are you all right?”
No damage had been done. Lucky. Her face flushed again, with embarrassment. As the higher ranking spar partner, she should have been able to better control her anger.
Shido-shi chastised her.
“Heijo-shin, Sanvi. Control your thoughts. Calm your mind. Accept. Do not think of consequence.”
She struggled with the peaceful mind. A daily struggle. Especially on board the Artemis.
Her thoughts wandered to the cargo hold. Focused on the takedown, the confrontation with Gennaji.
She didn’t know how Riss would react. Only that she should protect her captain. Her friend.
There was no real need to slam the man down so hard. But she couldn’t help it. She had seen his contempt, his arrogance, his lack of respect for her captain. More than anything, she had wanted to show that she, herself, Sanvi, was a worthy opponent. Not someone to be ignored.
She almost lost control. Heijo-shin.
Clear the machine.
Breathe. Inhale. Hold.
She remembered the first time she met Riss. On Ceres, during her stint with the asteroid ore processing plant. The job was boring. Uneventful. Filled with safety checks, routine maintenance, shipping schedules and monthly quotas and computer log entries.
Nothing interesting for an ore transport flight deck trainee.
Asteroid hunting seemed exciting. Enticing. Much more challenging and eventful. And Riss was the first female captain that Sanvi had ever met. So sure of herself, cocky and independent. Even after she had learned about the accident with Lena, Sanvi knew that Riss was someone who could teach her how to become equally as independent and indomitable in spirit.
I fall down seven times, I get up eight.
But asteroid hunting turned out just as tedious. Flight paths and records. Restrictions on catches and retrievals. Standard pings and telemetry procedures. Seemingly endless stretches of empty space with nothing to do.
And hardly any space and time for practice. Unless the cargo hold was empty. Which it never was.
Practice. She had meant to go back to her computer programming lessons, the way she had Earthside. Before the move to Luna.
Sanvi opened her eyes. Her breath was in disarray, out of rhythm. She pounded the side of a fist against the wall, and heard a muffled complaint from the other side. Enoch.
Screw him, she thought.
Aaron. I still haven’t forgiven them. Or forgotten you.
The tears came again, as usual, unbidden and sudden.
She wiped them away with the heel of her hand and hit the wall again.
Heijo-shin. Why was this always so hard?
Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 8: Enoch (Coming 12/12)
14 years ago, my wife and I went to Hiroshima by high-speed ferry boat, on our way back from visiting her parents in Kyushu. Her father’s family comes from Hiroshima (although her father was actually born in Dairen/Dalian (大連), China) and her uncle and his family still live about an hour’s drive north of the city.
“Over sixteen million Americans served during World War II and this story offers in rich detail the story of two men in uniform and a woman they both cared about. A story of love and tragedy that is more representative of the experiences of many that served than the ones often told of generals and politicians. A story that needs to be told and remembered.”
— Dr. Rick Derrah, Professor of Social Studies, Kindai University, Osaka; former US Army E-4 Specialist
“Not only is this a touching and interesting family story, it is a great snap shot of the war and its effects, as well as Trojans and Troy history connection.”
— Don Rittner, historian, former Albany City Archaeologist and founder of the Pine Bush Historic Preservation Project
I bought her Star Trek novelizations when I was a teenager. At the time, I had no idea that (a) she was an original Trekkie (b) had studied genetics and (c) had won both the Nebula and the Hugo Award (the Nebula multiple times).
She also made it a point to prove that women could write science fiction just as well as men, in a completely male-dominated science fiction landscape.
She managed to finish her final novel less than two weeks before she died.
(Read here if you don’t have access to or don’t care for the NYTimes: https://www.geekwire.com/2019/vonda-n-mcintyre-1948-2019-seattle-science-fiction-star-dies-cancer/)
Two days ago I celebrated Thanksgiving Day, or as we call it, Turkey Day, with my relatives in the US. It was the first time for me to do so in over 20 years.
The myths about the holiday are well-known, so I won’t waste time relating them here (most Americans are happy to go on pretending the “Pilgrim Fathers” started this when really it’s just an excuse for a four-day weekend of stuffing yourself, watching football, and shopping).
In our case, it was the first holiday since my mother passed away. The next two will be even harder. But the oft-trite is oft-true: it was as if the empty chair at the long table was filled with her presence. This year was different.
A passing of the family torch. Dinner at my sister’s house, dessert with her in-laws. Boardgames with aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. Family stories with grandpa. Skype with the grandkids overseas. Most of us drove seven or eight hours roundtrip just to spend one day together.
The grieving process continues. So does life. You can’t pick your relatives, but in some case you get real lucky.