Reach for the Stars

Challenger patches (photo by Wendy Kennar)

It happened 30 years ago tomorrow.  I was nine years old and in the fourth-grade. 

The space shuttle Challenger launched from the Kennedy Space Center with a most famous astronaut on board — Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space.

Our class was supposed to have been in the auditorium to watch the shuttle launch.  But, noisy boys had made us late.  And by the time we got downstairs, it had already happened.

As we made our way into the auditorium, a kindergarten teacher was running in from the other door.  She was yelling, “It blew up.”  I was confused and didn’t understand her outburst.  And then, I’m embarrassed to admit, that my first thought was confusion about her concern.  In my mind, she didn’t know any of the astronauts, so why was she so emotional?

Surprisingly, it was this accident that sparked my interest in space.  I became intrigued, curious, passionate, and not fearful.  Even though I had seen the worst, had seen how lives could be lost, I wanted to be an astronaut.

Christa McAuliffe had showed me I could.  She was a “regular person.”  A teacher.  A mom.  Someone who was a good person and liked learning.  That was me. 

I wanted to do what she wanted to do.  I wanted to go into space and share what I learned with others.  I wanted to share a message of peace and hope and beauty and wonder with those back on Earth.

I saw space flight as an opportunity for humans to get a “do-over.”  To try and do things right, to fix the wrongs and mistakes that had been made on Earth. 

Looking back, I’m honestly quite surprised that I wanted to be an astronaut for as long as I did.  (It was my goal until high school, when I volunteered in an elementary school classroom and had a special connection with the kids I helped.  Then I became passionate about teaching). 

Christa McAuliffe used to say, “I touch the future.  I teach.”  And I did that for twelve years. 

But now it’s my son’s turn to dream.  To tell me he wants to walk on the Moon.  That he wants to do a Michael Jackson-style moonwalk on the Moon.  And I tell him to go for it.  I tell him that he can do whatever he wants to do.  I tell him I believe in him. 

Because that was Christa’s other message — “Reach for the stars.”


7 Lessons I’m Learning From the Ocean

Cambria (photo by Wendy Kennar)

This week, I’m pleased to share that one of my personal essays has recently been published online at Breath and Shadow.  On our trip to Cambria last year, I was inspired by what I saw and what I felt and the result is my personal essay, “Seven Lessons I’m Learning From the Ocean.”  Here’s the link:

5 Reasons Why The Space Shuttle is So Special To Me

family picture with Endeavour

Last week, my family went to the California Science Center to see the space shuttle Endeavour and to wander through the exhibit, Journey to Space. It was one of the things my son wanted to do during his winter vacation, and even though it involved a lot of walking and standing for me (which translates into a lot of pain), I was happy to go.  I’m just as captivated by the space shuttle as my son.  (In fact, I wrote about one of our visits to Endeavour on my previous blog.  Here’s the link in case you missed it:

This time, I was no less awestruck than I was then.  In fact, I just keep thinking about why I have such a powerful, spiritual, reverential experience when I visit the space shuttle.  And, here’s what I’ve come up with.

  1. It is still benefitting us.  Things we commonly use today were invented, or refined, for human spaceflight. (Velcro).  Things we rely on today are possible because of our trips into space. (GPS – Global Positioning System).  Things we have come to regularly expect are achievable because we have ventured into space. (Detailed and specific weather predictions).
  2. It shows us that cooperation is powerful.  The space shuttle was not the result of one person’s master plan. It required feedback and input from a variety of individuals and corporations.  It couldn’t have been designed, and constructed, had not all the involved parties figured out some way of working together to create something bigger than any one of them.
  3. It speaks to our innate curiosity.  Human beings have a desire to explore, to learn, to see what they have not seen before.  Human space flight, in my opinion, has been the way we have attempted to better understand our planet and our place within a much larger context. 
  4. It represents the best of humankind.  The space shuttle represents the best qualities of our species.  Our intelligence, our creativity, our ingenuity, our determination, our persistence, our inventiveness, our hunger for knowledge.
  5. It’s hopeful.  Because the space shuttle is a physical representation of the best of humankind, I see it as a symbol of possibility and hope.  Sometimes it seems as if some of the inhabitants on our planet are setting us up for doom, despair, and destruction.  (It’s the reason why I can’t watch the nightly news before bed).  But then I see the space shuttle.  And I see goodness.  I see positivity.  I see possibility.


Tales From a Shy, Quiet Girl

kindergarten picture Wendy Kennar

My Kindergarten School Photo

“Be regular and orderly in your life,

so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

– Gustave Flaubert

I first read that quote during my November writing retreat in Lake Arrowhead.  I have found myself coming back to that quote, re-reading it, and recognizing that it directly applies to my life.

I’m the girl who has always been described as “quiet.”  In fact, I used to be so shy and quiet, that my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Wilson, asked my mom if I ever spoke at home.  For a while, I didn’t speak at all in my kindergarten class.  I was listening, I was watching, I was learning.  I just wasn’t speaking.

Obviously that changed since I was a graduation speaker at my elementary school, junior high school, and high school graduations. (In fact, Fairfax High School held their ceremony at the Greek Theatre). I was a teacher for twelve years, a career that required me to get up in front of a group and speak.  Every day.

Yet, I still consider myself a relatively shy and quiet person.  I don’t usually start conversations with random strangers.  I don’t always know how to extend beyond small talk a conversation with someone I’ve just met.

And I am most definitely a person who likes order and routine.  One day a week, I pay my bills.  One day a week, I go grocery shopping.  Each day, I write myself a list of things to do.

But, in my writing, I’m more uninhibited.  I’m more candid about what’s happening in my life. 

Last year, I wrote about the effects chronic pain has on my sex life.

Last year, I wrote about my mixed-race family.

Last year, I wrote about envying my son and my mom and the passion with which they live their lives.

Last year, I wrote about parenting while living with an “invisible disability.”

Those are just a few of my published personal essays from last year.  Not too shabby for a shy, quiet girl.  Makes me smile and wonder what I’ll write about this year.