Friday, March 11, 2011

Personal Problems, a Civic Soapbox essay by Cathy Rec

Martha note: In the wake of this week's final Discovery flight, Cathy Rec reflects upon her own brush with the 1986 Challenger explosion.
I’m on the Civic Soapbox today to speak on Personal Problems.  Everybody has them.  Everybody has different ways of dealing with them.  And the reason I decided to talk about this issue at this particular time was because of January’s anniversary stories of the Challenger Disaster.  How these fit together is my story:

I was working for AT&;T in downtown Houston, Texas on January 28, 1986, the day we lost the shuttle.  And I did say “the day WE lost the shuttle,” because I was born in Houston and grew up in the suburbs in and around Johnson Space Center.  I went to church with people who worked there and hung out with their kids.  NASA was a major part of my life and my friends and co-workers at AT&T that day were heavily involved with the post-accident broadcasts, as this was the time when AT&;T handled much of the television broadcasts for Houston.  I had to watch the explosion over and over again all that day.  That’s the back story.

Well, 1986 was a big year for me in other ways.  I was married and had my first baby that year and had a great job that was taking very good care of me.  I thought I had a great future in front of me.  But by 1989, I had a second child, my marriage was not doing well and AT&T was laying me off.  Even my second line supervisor knew I was in trouble, since I had been working for the company for 15 years and really had no other skills.  He referred me to his therapist who sent me to group therapy – right down the street from Johnson Space Center! 

I have to admit that I felt like the most pitiful person on the planet.  I had two babies, no husband and no job.  I was mad as hell and blamed the world for what was happening to me.  There were other people in my group with their own major problems, drugs, abuse, and alcohol – the usual suspects.  Then one evening a woman walks in, dressed impeccably, and drives away in her Mercedes Benz!

 I HATED her!  What on earth could she possibly have a problem with!?  She would complain a bit about her mom, but nothing more major than that.  I would steam every time I saw her.  How could she possibly be as bad off as the rest of us?  Then her last day in session came and the counselor asked if the mystery woman’s identity could finally be revealed.  And since we all took a vow of secrecy, I will not be able to give you her exact name, but you don’t need to know it to get the point … she was a Challenger widow.

That’s all I needed to know … and wanted to kick myself for all my evil thoughts.  It was on that day that my own problems feel into perspective, and even though I didn’t have her monetary security, my husband wasn’t killed in front of the whole world!

Now I STILL have problems and life has never gone back to being as perfect as I thought it was in 1986, but every once and awhile I remember that day and think, “No matter how bad you think you have it, there is always someone, somewhere who is worse off than you.”

Now for the disclaimer: Many people have hard lives because of medical reasons, and I am not discounting that.  They are not going to be able to pull themselves up with that thought.  And I know I’m sounding a bit Pollyanna-ish, but it’s what helps me get through some days - not all, by some - and it’s what I believe.  Maybe it will help someone else as well.  I hope so.
-- Cathy Rec lives close to Quicksburg, where she is self employed as a computer technician and does a little bookkeeping as well.

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