On Jan. 28, 1986, I was a young copywriter in a meeting at the Chamber of Commerce office for an agenda that centered around state tourism. Maybe it was a committee or board of some kind, I’m not sure. What I remember is that the meeting was interrupted: someone stepped in with the news that the Challenger Space Shuttle had exploded. Attendees gasped. Someone mentioned the teacher, Christa McAuliffe. We turned on a television.
After we had seen the news, the person leading the meeting was unsure how to begin again. He made a comment to the effect that it felt odd to be discussing the next item in light of what had happened. I assume the topic reflected Alabama’s role in the space race.
If you were around then, you’ll have your own memories of the haunting images. I don’t have to tell you about those. I remember a couple of things that sadden me even to this day. Yet I’ll make a different point.
After the meeting was over, I remember thinking about the one who decided to interrupt the meeting to deliver the news. How did he know to make that call?
I was brand new to adulthood, and I wondered if I would have known to interrupt a meeting and make the announcement. At the time I was in this continuing search of figuring out how to sit at a conference table, how to be in a meeting, how to be grown – and I realized then that when faced with an issue, I might not know how or when to say, “Stop what you are doing. Something serious has happened.” I almost surely would have thought, “Shouldn’t someone else tell them? Who am I to interrupt a meeting?”
When you’re young, it’s possible to think that all these protocols were set in place before you got there, and you’re trying to learn the systems and codes to proceed. As you grow older, you realize that people and organizations don’t know nearly as much as you think they do. Everybody’s basically trying to figure it out as they go, and you’ve got a lot of assistance that you can offer.
This concept was reinforced for me about 10 years ago during a season when I was delivering birthday cookies for the homebound ministry at my church. I had made a stop at the home of a lady in her 90s. During our visit, Doris told me that she had taught in preschool Sunday school for almost 25 years, but she had to quit when her husband became ill. The result, she said, is that she missed out on her 25-year pin — because she didn’t go the whole way.
When I returned home, I sent an email to the current head of Sunday school and asked if there were something the church could do. A few weeks later, in the box for my Sunday school class, there was an envelope with my name on it containing a 25-year Sunday school pin. I was glad to see it for Doris’s sake, but what did I do now? Was I supposed to deliver it? Did I even have the authority to make the presentation? It was my hope that somebody from the church could do it, then I remembered: I am from the church.
I went back to see Doris and when I stood at her bed and told her why I had come, I was stunned by the emotion of her reaction. She gasped. She put her hand to her mouth. She began trembling, and she almost broke into tears.
“I was so disappointed that I didn’t get my pin,” she told me. “You don’t know what this means to me. It means the world to me.”
We both finished some unfinished business that day. She got her pin, and I learned another lesson about the authority of adulthood and of ministry. If you need direction, you can get your marching orders in this simple verse: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.” (Proverbs 3:27)
If I have one word that stands out like a billboard on my long journey, it’s this one: reconciliation.
In my novel, Life with Strings Attached, I reconciled with my childhood. In my work memoir, Min at Work, I reconciled with my adulthood. In this platform, I am reconciling with how to embrace and share the wisdom that comes from aging.
There are people who still remember at a personal level the loss of the Challenger and also know that something was left undone – the teaching that was to be delivered to classrooms from space. We never heard the lessons Christa McAuliffe had prepared. In January, the Challenger Center announced that several of the lessons she planned to perform will be delivered aboard the International Space Station this year, 32 years later.
It’s sort of like that quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long and bends toward justice.” The arc of grief is long and bends toward reconciliation.
Sometimes it takes a while to finish what was begun. Is there an area left unfinished that you would like to move toward?
Enjoy your magnificent journey.
– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 2, Issue 4
P.S. I tell the story of Doris’s delivery in Min at Work, a work memoir I published in 2012. Some of you asked about my novel, Life with Strings Attached (Paraclete Press, 2005), from last week’s post. To get either book, the details are here: minnielamberth.com/books