Beyond The Lights In the Sky

By Erik Cagle

By now it is a tired cliche: Where were you and what were you doing when you heard that so-and-so happened? But shared experiences are always enduring.

On February 1, 2003, my family of four visited The Pizza Box in Washington Township, NJ, perhaps the finest Italian eatery in Gloucester County (with apologies to Italian Affair). We were killing time as prospective buyers perused our home.

As we sat down, the nearby television images of what appeared to be meteor debris or a fallen star shooting across a clear blue sky stole any appetite I would have that afternoon. The visual was accompanied by a tag line that read, “Space Shuttle Columbia Explodes.”

The fiery white dots raced across the sky, gradually breaking into smaller chunks until the fireballs were reduced to vapor trails. Dumbfounded, I asked the restaurant proprietor if it had been a manned mission. A foolish question for sure, but I wanted to believe that no one had perished in the disaster, that somehow, the seven people were safe. Sadly, another tragedy had struck.

It was difficult to look away from the television screen. The network reporter repeated the news ad nauseum, as all networks would that weekend. There was nothing left to say, yet people felt obligated to say something. It was a horrific incident to witness and, as was the case with the previous space shuttle disaster, the 1986 Challenger explosion on takeoff, we would all be subjected to reliving it over and over.

People die every day. Accidents claim the lives of thousands each year. Someone mourns for another’s loss, somewhere, and it is a tragedy…for them. It is thy common fate of all, a wise man once said.

But this loss touched all. And with good reason.

The term heroes is loosely used these days; the term has lost all relevance. Many of the people who are looked at reverently are hardly cut of idolized stock.

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