Twenty-nine years ago this week, the space shuttle Challenger launched with a teacher, Christa McAuliffe on board. For months, the nation had watched her prepare and train, and on that morning in January, millions of students were watching along with the rest of us when the Challenger began to break apart in successive explosions. All crew members died.
I can only imagine being in a spacecraft that everything around those astronauts becomes a sheltering wall as their lives are propelled into space beyond our atmosphere, beyond our earth, beyond our sea. This particular event, broadcast live on television around the country and the world, exposed us to one of life’s most devastating events: when one’s sheltering walls are ripped utterly away.
For the astronauts of The Challenger, the ripping away of sheltering walls was literal, their very lives were exposed to the most hostile elements, and they died.
The rest of us experience, for the most part, events in life that become a ripping away of sheltering walls. We are exposed to hostile elements, and we experience loss and death of many kinds. Anyone reading this can name what that kind of event has been for him or her, and I don’t need to give examples. The metaphorical loss of sheltering walls itself can be devastating.
What is beyond that shattering loss of sheltering walls? It can be many things including the ruin of lives. Loss of sheltering walls is just devastating.
There is hope, however. In the space after the loss of sheltering walls, with some waiting and with some openness to possibility, the amazing experience of human life is very, very often, that new life emerges. The new life does not in any way negate the tragedy, the pain, the grief and the horror of the ripping away of sheltering walls. The new life does, however, whether we even want it or not, draw us into new possibilities, new activities, new relationships, and new hope. We might think it damnable. We might think it miraculous. Traditional theology calls it grace. A gift.
When our sheltering walls are ripped away, death is inevitable. New life arising from death is our human story.