May 14, 2010. 9 days after knee surgery. Banana Creek VIP Viewing Site for the launch of STS-132 (Space Shuttle Atlantis).
About a week before surgery we learned that we had been selected to see one of the last three shuttle launches. We quickly bought plane tickets, found a dive of a “hotel” to stay in, arranged for dog care (more difficult than childcare, I dare say!) and we were set. I’d had knee surgery before (albeit I was, um, a bit younger) so did not foresee any problems and my surgeon told me to have a good time.
The pain in my leg while flying was beyond explanation. It was as if a balloon was expanding and would pop at any moment. “Point toes up and then down…up and down.” Stretch, damn calf, stretch! Maybe the ankle circles will help. 10 to the right, 10 to the left. Nothing would ease the pain, not even the free drink in first class put a dent in the pain
None of this mattered, it was a life time experience that I was not going to miss. I even succumbed to being pushed around in a wheelchair.
Launch day. Remember those images from Apollo 13 of the countdown clock? Yeah, that is where we were sitting. 3 miles in the distance (as close as anyone can be for a launch) was the Space Shuttle Alantis ready for its final launch.
After 4 plus hours of waiting the clock counted down…
I’m really here, I’m watching this happen in person. I’m not really a space nut. Living in SoCal we’d often talked of going to see it land in the early days of its existance but being here with the crowd was one of those “I’m proud to be an American” moments.
The crowd which had been milling around stood still and watched. The sound of the official NASA voice came through clearly as the countdown continued…
I looked at K2, our then 9 year old daughter, and whispered to her “here we go!”
The rumble began as the plumes of white smoke rose from underneath the shuttle. It rose more slowly than I expected. It is nothing like those childhood rockets my brothers would set off in the backyard. The rumble grew louder, so loud that it shook the ground and grandstands where we stood. As Atlantis took to the sky, the pressure on our bodies increased as well. 3 miles away and the pressure pushed us back into the safety rail behind us.
Sooner than I wished, it was gone.
Why did I choose this as the moment this year that I felt most alive? Obviously, the historical significance of the event was part of it. But it had to do with that damn pain in my leg that would not go away. 2 weeks later I was diagnosed with a blood clot, spent the night in the hospital under observation, started a series of shots to reduce the clot and discovered the joys of coumadin over the course of the next 3 months. As usual, I dismissed the risk and told others it was nothing but it wasn’t. But it was. It could have been worse, much worse. Life is a gift, enjoy every bit of it. Appreciate the moments whether they be once in a life time experiences or the gift of a new day.