What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s the go-to conversation-starter with kids.
After watching the first Moon landing in July, 1969, I only wanted to be an astronaut. I read everything available about outer space. I learned stars and located constellations, and after getting a small telescope for Christmas one year, I began to make my own star charts. I would go outside each night and study the sky, noting changes from season to season. Space fever struck many of my schoolmates as well, and several of us met regularly on the playground to share our experiences of “shooting stars,” and strange happenings beyond the stratosphere. We were fascinated and energized when a television movie aired, Stowaway to the Moon, in which a boy just a little older than us hid out on a rocket to the moon, and after his trials and tribulations, finally made it back to Earth. We were sobered and somber when three cosmonauts died in the summer of 1971 due to decompression within their space capsule.
Nevertheless, my goal was to work for NASA. To soar above the clouds, through the layers of the atmosphere, until I reached space, “the final frontier,” where I would drift from planet to planet, sampling, photographing and noting everything I observed, and, I hoped, meeting beings of all shapes, sizes and colors. I was a huge Star Trek fan, and Ensign Pavel Chekov was my favorite series character, although I had great admiration for Communications Officer Uhura and implicitly trusted “Bones” McKoy.
In 1976, when Star Wars premiered, I was hooked. I had a Star Wars digital watch, Star Wars bedsheets, action figurines, posters, records. I begged my piano teacher to get the sheet music for me, and I learned several pieces from the soundtrack score. I braided my long dark hair and tried to twist it over my ears like Princess Leia, but my glasses spoiled the effect. I saw all of the movies multiple times and bought books about George Lucas’ saga. I collected any magazines or newspapers that yielded more information about the movies or any of the actors from the movies.
In 1977, my space fever ramped to a new level with Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a Steven Spielberg production in which people’s lives are turned upside down after contact with aliens from deep space. Project U.F.O. followed in 1978, a television series that dramatized Project Blue Book, a government study on whether we were indeed being visited and influenced by extraterrestrial civilizations who had gotten to us before we could get to them.
In 1985, I contacted NASA to learn the requirements for their civilian-in-space program, but item #1 on the list knocked me out of consideration immediately. An astronaut had to have eyesight no worse than 20/40, and I had passed 20/1200 before starting high school. I knew President Ronald Reagan was very vocal about schools and businesses encouraging physically-challenged persons to full participation in all vocations, and so with this glimmer of hope I again contacted NASA, explaining that while I was somewhat visually impaired, my vision was easily corrected with prescription lenses and I could serve as the first handicapped civilian payload specialist. After all, I was also training to be a teacher, and NASA was sending Science teacher Christa McAuliffe on board the space shuttle Challenger. NASA kindly declined my offer.
With the explosion of the Challenger, in January, 1986, the civilian-in-space program dropped from NASA’s agenda, and becoming an astronaut disappeared from my personal agenda. While it had been an astronomically long shot anyway, it was now, obviously, an impossible fantasy. I would focus on being the best teacher I could be. The dream was over and I was permanently Earthbound. Perhaps I would teach an astronaut.
Fast-forward thirty-two years, through which I finished school, married and reared three amazing young women, experienced all kinds of joy and heartache, lost and found hope again and again, prayed a lot, laughed a lot, and cried a lot, changed a lot, taught a lot. I haven’t seen the astronaut yet, but I’ve taught firefighters, nurses, teachers, soldiers, truck drivers, singers, farmers, mechanics, x-ray technicians, photographers, football players, musicians, attorneys, accountants, day care owners, entrepreneurs, bankers, and police officers.
I’m retired now, no longer looking into young faces, asking, “What will you be?” “What fascinates you?” “What gifts do you possess?” “What do you dream of?” Now I look into the mirror each morning and ask my own reflection, “What will you be?” “What fascinates you?” “What gifts do you possess?” “What do you dream of?” The countdown is on, but I have no idea of the departure time.
I just hope before I leave that I can reflect some light, maybe starlight, spread some peace, such as may be found on the dark side of the Moon, and leave a comet-like trail of joyful memories.
*Won’t you consider sharing your own dreams of being “grown-up” in the comments? I’d love to hear from you. Wishing you joy, hope, peace and light…