In Possession of the ‘Enough Stuff’

Even if I had pursued my first dream, if I had tried to become a United States astronaut, I wouldn’t have succeeded. Because now I know the truth. Apparently I’m claustrophobic.”

“The first time I had an MRI, I was completely unprepared for it. I thought an MRI would just be a fancy X-ray. Instead, I felt as if I was being swallowed up by a massive machine that slid me inside and wouldn’t let me back out. It was loud, it vibrated, and I felt like the whole thing was a very elaborate plan to see how long it would take until I cracked and pushed the panic button. (I kept it firmly in my grip, my thumb gently hovering above the button. Just in case. And to my credit, I’ve never used it.)”

On the surface you might not think my childhood dream of becoming an astronaut and my current identity as a chronic illness patient have anything in common.

But they do.

I’m proud to share my essay, “In Possession of the Enough Stuff,” has been published in SWFP Quarterly Special Issue 26. You can click here to read the essay in its entirety.

And, fun bonus! On Sunday, August 15th, Santa Fe Writers Project hosted an incredible reading on Zoom. I participated and read a portion of my essay. The whole reading was incredible, and I feel fortunate to have been a part of it. (If you’re pressed for time, I start reading at about 50 minutes in.)

An Astronaut’s Perspective

From the time I was in fourth grade until the time I was in eleventh grade, I had one career goal – to become an astronaut.

If you’ve been reading my work for a while, you know I never became an astronaut.  And while I loved my teaching career, I never stopped being interested in manned space exploration. So of course, I was eager to read How to Astronaut: An Insider’s Guide to Leaving Planet Earth by Terry Virts.

Mr. Virts tells the story of traveling into space, from training, to launch, to orbit, and re-entry.

The book is organized into fifty-one short chapters and includes not only one-of-a-kind observations but funny anecdotes as well.

“The space station is, in many ways, a thirteen-year-old boy’s dream. You can float around like Superman. You can eat whatever you want and your parents aren’t there to nag you. You have your own room and you close the door and nobody tells you to clean it. Best of all – no showers! For 200 days in a row!”

“It was the example of how people should work together to solve important problems, leaving petty political bickering behind. That is exactly what we did and what the space program in general has done for many decades. The vacuum of space is a harsh and unforgiving environment, and it does’t care what country you are from or what your ideology is. Unless you approach spaceflight focused only on getting the job done and working as a team, you risk dying. 

And that, my friends, is a lesson that we would do well to learn down here on our home planet.”

“I think that attitude is the key to many of our situations in life. Make the most out of your circumstances. Enjoy what you can. Learn from what you can. Suffer through what you must. And learn from it. What doesn’t kill you should make you better. If you go through life with that attitude, you will be happier and more successful than by complaining.”

“…the universe is inhospitable and cold and dark and wholly incompatible with life, with the exception of our blue planet, as far as we know. I had a new sense of thankfulness and appreciation for our home, drifting through space like a giant spaceship carrying the entirety of our species on a timeless journey. We should take care of it. There is no plan B; there is only plan A.”

And, I found it absolutely wonderful to get to the acknowledgement section at the back of the book, and find that the first people Mr. Virts chose to acknowledge were his high school English teachers! 

Why a Roundabout Path Is More Than Okay

From fourth grade until about my junior year of high school, if someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I proudly answered “Astronaut.” 

My goal changed. During high school, I took a class called World of Education. We spent four days a week, about two hours a day, assisting in a local elementary school classroom. That’s when I fell in love with teaching. And that’s when I changed my career goal.

That’s not how it worked for Leland Melvin. 

Leland Melvin isn’t like most astronauts. 

He didn’t grow up wanting to be an astronaut.

In fact, he’s the only astronaut who was also drafted by the NFL. 

He has had a variety of different experiences, and set-backs along the way, but still maintains a positive attitude and a desire to encourage others to reach for their dreams. You can read more about him in his memoir Chasing Space: An Astronaut’s Story of Grit, Grace, and Second Chances. 

From a writer’s perspective, I didn’t particularly enjoy the book. Certain parts felt like they were missing something – a lack of introspection, personal reaction, and depth. 

From a reader’s perspective, the part of the story that stands out most to me is the circuitous path Mr. Melvin took to becoming an astronaut. In fact, he had never really thought of “astronaut” as a career possibility. 

It’s an important reminder, for me, and an important lesson to share with my son.

We don’t always know what path our lives will take. 

You don’t have to travel straight from point A to point B. It’s okay to take detours, to go in circles, to lose your place and start again.

Because you just may wind up among the stars.