And not just because of what happened to the shuttle.
I first saw that awful image of the Y-shape smoke on a small television set outside my counselor’s office. It reinforced what Jenny and I had just talked about for 45 minutes.
We’d talked about living authentically. And the rewards — and risks — involved.
Jenny specializes in working with adult children of alcoholics. That’s me. When I reached adulthood — well, as much as any of us does — I realized that some things weren’t working for me. Something was missing from my life.
Me. I was missing.
Jenny helped me connect the dots. She helped me to see that the coping strategies I’d used as a child to deal with a crazy situation were getting in the way of living.
As a child, I’d learned not to talk about the craziness going on around me. And especially not to talk to anyone outside the family about it — their lives are so perfect and they’ll think you’re so weird, which will make it all worse.
Instead, put up walls. Protect yourself from being disappointed by not expecting or hoping for much. Don’t get in situations where you could get hurt. Try to love from a safe distance. Just get through life.
And dream about the day when someone will ride in and save you from all of this. Everything will be great. God will wave a divine magic wand or someone in shining armor will ride in and save you.
Or, maybe not.
Jenny taught me that we all have stuff that we have to figure out and grow through, little by little. Each of us struggles with our own stuff in our own ways for our entire life. It‘s a never-ending deal.
Our human challenge.
It’s as though life gives each of us a basket of unmatched socks and assigns us to pair them up. And as soon as all of the socks are matched, we get another basket of socks to try to mate up.
The more we do it, the better we get at it. We start figuring things out a bit more.
And we become a little more authentic.
Being authentic doesn’t mean being the loudest voice or insisting that we have all the answers and that other people should live our way. That’s not being authentic; that’s being an ass.
It doesn’t mean that we’ll ever fully understand ourselves or why we do the things we do sometimes. But we try not to let our decisions be guided quite so much by the selfish, insecure and scared parts inside each of us.
Being authentic means trying our best to love. Because we’re at our most authentic when we love.
It means tapping into the kind, compassionate, creative parts and letting them guide our decisions a bit more as we go along. It means doing what makes us feel the most genuine and the most alive.
It also means working at putting all of ourselves into our relationships. It means making the effort and taking the risk of actually loving, which is always fulfilling and unsettling and messy and wonderful and awkward and challenging.
And this is where it gets risky.
To love is to risk. The deeper and more authentic the love, the bigger the risk. We take a chance whenever we let our love and our passion take us places.
We do so knowing that things will sometimes blow up in our faces. We‘re going to get hurt, maybe very deeply. We do it anyway.
Which brings us back to the Challenger.
Teacher Christa McAuliffe was on the Challenger. She could have stayed in the safety of her classroom instead of risking outer space. She followed her passion.
After the disaster, President Reagan said that McAuliffe and the astronauts had “slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.”
So have we.
By living authentically, we take the risk and accept the challenge to reconstitute our spaceship after things inevitably fall apart. We put ourselves back on the launch pad — still hurting and healing — and head boldly and authentically toward a new place.
A place where we touch the face of God. And where God oh-so-tenderly touches us back.