Some of my friends are recalling what they did at the time of the Challenger disaster — 33 years ago today. I remember it well, and not only because of what happened to the shuttle.
I first saw that horrifying image of Y-shape smoke on a small television screen outside my counselor’s office. It reinforced what Jenny and I had just discussed for 45 minutes.
We’d talked about living authentically, and how there are great rewards – and big risks – when we summon the courage to leave our safe, familiar places.
Jenny specializes in working with adult children of alcoholics. That’s me. When I reached adulthood — well, as much as anyone does — I realized some things weren’t working. 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 challenging situation were getting in the way of living a fuller life.
Me. I was missing.
As a child, I learned not to talk about the craziness engulfing me. And especially not to talk to anyone outside the family about it — their lives were so perfect, it seemed, and they’d think I was so weird, which would make it all worse.
Instead, I put up walls and protected myself from being disappointed. I learned not to expect much. I avoided situations where I could get hurt. I tried to love in limited measure from a safe distance, which never works.
And I dreamed about the day when someone would ride in and save me from all of this. God would wave a divine magic wand, or someone in shining armor would show up and rescue me.
Or, maybe not.
During my talks with Jenny, I learned that each of us has our human baggage to sort out. As we embrace the challenge, we grow and become more comfortable with the process. We figure things out a bit better, we see them from a little clearer perspective.
And slowly, we become 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 some of the things we do. Instead, it’s about choosing to be guided less often by the insecure and scared parts inside each of us.
Being authentic means trying our best to love. We’re at our best and our most authentic when we love.
It means tapping into the kind, compassionate, creative parts and letting them guide our decisions a bit more often. It means choosing to put ourselves into makes us feel the most genuine and the most alive.
It also means learning how to put ourselves a little more fully into our many relationships. It’s about taking the risk of actually loving, which is fulfilling and unsettling and messy and wonderful and confusing and challenging.
To love is to risk. We take a chance whenever we let our love and our passion take us places that we can’t go by ourselves.
To love is to risk
We do so knowing that things will sometimes end badly. We‘re going to get hurt, maybe very deeply. We do it anyway. That’s the price of love and authenticity.
Which brings us 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. But she was passionate about making this trip, and 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 a risk and accept the challenge of reconstituting our lives when something inevitably fall apart. We put ourselves back on the launch pad, so to speak — still hurting and healing — and we head authentically toward a new place.
A place where we touch the face of God. And where God oh-so-tenderly touches us back.