30 years later and not forgotten

The Space Shuttle Challenger explodes after lifting off from the Kennedy Space Center on the morning of Jan. 28, 1986.

We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of Earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.
— President Ronald Reagan after the Challenger disaster

Webmaster’s note: This is an off topic post

There was all kinds of hype prior to the Space Shuttle Challenger going up that January. There was build up -big build up. This wasn’t a typical space flight. A civilian teacher named Christa McAuliffe had joined the group. She had planned to teach a lesson from space.

In my second grade kid-world this was a big deal. Usually we didn’t get to watch TV unless it was something special. The activities that were to be held on the Challenger more than qualified. Not only would there be a lesson from space, but they would also be broadcasting a tour of the ship from up there. Personally, I was excited about watching the tour.

Our teacher had cautioned us that the transmission might not be able to come through because of the weather or whatever reason. We didn’t believe that. That was typical grown-up prudence that was best to be ignored.

To some degree, in a school back then you could still be closed off from the rest of the world for at least six hours. It was not a TV/Internet in every classroom environment. You could go in the place in the morning and go home in the afternoon and find the world had decided to change without consulting you.

The afternoon of the 28th we had finished up our library class and were engaged in watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory –the Gene Wilder version. For some reason we were allowed to watch it up until 15 minutes before school let out.

Then our teacher returned from whatever mysterious place she had gone to that afternoon. She kind of looked at us and then looked down at her hands. She then said something to the effect that she had to tell us some bad news about the space shuttle.

“We won’t get to see the TV program?” blurted out a boy.
“No,” she paused. “The spaceship exploded.”

The TV was then turned back on to the news where we watched that trailing white cloud. My initial thought then was the same thought I had the morning of September 11 when the news I was watching flipped to the first of the twin towers being hit. What am I looking at? What is this? All I could do was cry. It was, that day, a great national tragedy.

I initially wrote this at the 20 year mark. Now it’s 30 years later. It may sound like an age has passed but one glimpse of Jan. 28 on the calendar along with the iconic- and tragic- photo of the explosion makes it yesterday once more.

While the memory may get packed away with all the other junk life hands down, it’s still there. The same feelings are easily retrievable. The reaction is still the same. Loss is still loss.

A cache of news clippings documenting the Challenger disaster. The color photo in the paper on the right is one of the first times this paper used a color photo.

A tale about a pair of lenses

Webmasters note: This is an off topic post 🙂

A somewhat obsessive habit of mine is taking photos in my fair city. On one such outing last spring I scored a good one — a shot of a paddle boarder gliding through the sunset. In December I was honored to have won a Hoosier State Press Association award for that photo.

I had mentioned, after announcing this in December, that there was something of a story leading up to how the photo came to be. It’s probably not the type of story you’re expecting. This yarn really starts with a need for new lenses -and not the kind that go with cameras.

Recently I’ve been sporting my spectacles more — rather than only wearing them at night and out of sight. This may not sound like a big deal. In fact, it may come off as a little odd that I would hide such a thing. Hear me out.

I’ve worn glasses since I was two – and probably should have had them before that. My eyesight, which was inherited through my paternal grandmother, is what’s usually referred to as extreme or severe myopia. Without correction, life looks like a large cloud. More information on the likes of high myopia be found here.

I wear high power/high index lenses. These are a different animal compared to most glasses. In the old days someone with extreme myopia would be stuck with the the thick “coke bottle” lenses. Now high index lenses, which make the lens appear less thick, are available. However, they’ll cost you and in my case they’re still not as thin as the average pair of glasses.

As an added bonus, when you have a high prescription like I do, your face ends up looking distorted. In the case of extreme nearsightedness, the eyes wind up looking smaller and out of proportion to the rest of the face. It’s enough of an issue that Wikipedia wrote an entry about facial distortion and social stigma.

My bespectacled youth wasn't pretty. Even cool 1990s lasers couldn't save me.

Again, this may not seem like such a big deal, however, glasses, when I first started wearing them, weren’t the fashion accessories they are today. There weren’t hipsters walking around wearing horned rimmed frames with no lenses. Instead, there were kids either shunning you or straight up informing you that, yes, you were ugly. Sorry, no spots at the lunch table for you – or much of any other socialization for that matter.

During my freshman year of high school I made the switch to contacts. I found, after the switch, some people didn’t know who I was – even though I had gone through junior high with them. Other people that previously gave me the brush-off actually spoke to me. I still wasn’t in the “in” crowd, but at least I wasn’t treated as a complete pariah.

Life got to a point where I kept the fact that I had a vision problem a secret. On the occasions I did have to wear them, I’d either warn who I was with or attempt to joke that I wore coke bottles. To be frank, I was really embarrassed by my glasses. I figured if someone saw me in thick specs they’d quickly deem me as ugly and then associate me with all the stereotypes: Nerdy, smart, bookish, blah, blah, blah.

Contacts, though, have their hang ups. They can only be worn for a few hours during the day, they get stuck in your eyelid, you spend most of your free time cleaning them and they can be subject to many an unfortunate accident. I once had a pair that someone washed down the bathroom sink —  which was basically like finding out my eyes had gone down the drain. While they’re preferred for aesthetic reasons, they’re really a pain in the ass.

Coke bottle glasses and contact lens problems are actually the least of the woes associated with extremely high myopia. Each time you visit your eye doctor they dutifully recite the signs of a retinal detachment. That speech is usually followed by a lovely eye dilation – which in turn is followed by sunglasses and blurry vision for the bulk of the day.

Usually I would go about my business after that discussion – and dilation. This last doctor visit was different. Other matters, which I won’t detail here, were discussed. I found myself looking at a reality I couldn’t push to the back of my mind as I had before. The future, which should have the promise of some moments of color, had also clouded over.

This brings us to an image of a paddle boarder taking his evening trip around an Indiana lake.

Eh?

After that day’s doctor visit, my husband, daughter and I, still wearing the darkest shades I owned, decided to take our evening walk around the lake a couple blocks from our house. I never know what I’ll see on one of these walks, so on some nights I take my cell phone – which has a pretty decent camera. On other nights I skip the cell phone and take a better camera – a Nikon DSLR. This, thankfully, was one of the “other” nights.

We walked down to the lake and made our way to a small bay. I spied a fishing boat and then took in the colors the setting sun was casting on the lake. In one narrow stream it was a ray of pinks.

I then noticed a paddle boarder approaching the ray of sunlight. I’d seen him before -and photographed him on a previous outing. I wasted no time with doing the same and was thankful I had my camera’s settings where I wanted them. Just as soon as he was in my frame, he was out of it. That guy was not fooling around.

Once I finished up, I checked my chip. It was like a gift: I had one shot where the paddle boarder was in that red and pink beam of sunlight. The following shots were of him making his way over to a boat occupied by fishermen.

Viel Glück!

A couple days later the newspaper I work for ran the photo as stand alone odd art. We also used a few of the other images that came out of that moment for some of our special sections.

Spring eventually gave way to late summer and I had forgotten about that image – until my colleagues started working on their Hoosier State Press Association contest entries. While touching base with the editor compiling all those entries, I decided to chuck it into the mix. Props, by the way, go to that editor for helping me – and all the work he did with compiling the entries.

In the fall, a few of us were pleasantly surprised to learn we had won HSPAs -although we wouldn’t find out exactly what we had won until we attended the conference in December. I was indeed surprised to have won a first since I’m not considered a photographer.

In the end it was nice that, for a little bit, a shiny moment took the focus off of a dark moment.

This graphic shows the before, during and after of the paddle boarder riding into the sunset.

*This is Kaos. We don’t talk about our diopters here.