I don’t remember what we were arguing about on the morning of January 28, 1986 at 6:37:53.444 Hawaiian time, but I know my husband and I were once again at odds about something. I can’t recall the exact words we said a little over a minute later at 6:38:58.798, but I’m sure we were equally passionate on the subject.
With more bad times than good in our eight years as husband and wife, my marriage was a disaster. In a counseling session my pastor asked what we fought about. I retorted that the real issue was, what didn’t we fight about. From finances to children to values, we agreed on nothing. I was a fairly new Christian and I knew arguing with my husband wouldn’t please God or solve our problems, but that didn’t stop me from quarreling with as much fervor as my non believing spouse.
As we drove over the Pali Highway for our daily commute from Kailua to Honolulu, the radio was tuned to KSSK, the news station we listened to each morning. I managed to filter out all but snatches of news stories and commercials so intent was I on making my point; the right point of course.
I do remember, as we entered the tunnel, a break in the news for a special live report about the space shuttle Challenger. Entering the tunnel we lost transmission, and instead of the newscaster, we heard static. We continued to bicker about whatever was so important that early morning on the way to our respective jobs.
So engrossed were we in our differences that as we exited the tunnel and the static cleared we almost missed the historic announcement. The Challenger had exploded.
Our differences no longer mattered as we drove in our white Toyota Tercel listening to the AM coverage. The peaceful beauty of the majestic emerald velvet Koolau mountains and the placid brilliance of the aqua waters mocked my feelings of confusion and despair.
As we approached downtown, Steve Nesbitt, mission control commentator in Houston announced, “We have a report from the flight dynamics officer that the vehicle has exploded. The flight director confirms that.”
My intense unhappiness with my husband, my marriage, and my life no longer mattered. In silence we listened to the broadcast as we inched our way down Bishop Street before turning left on to Kapiolani. That Tuesday my tears fell as I saw clusters of brightly dressed business people obviously discussing the news in front of office buildings and open green spaces. I offered up a prayer for the astronauts and their families.
As we crossed Ward Avenue my speechless husband, his clenched jaw the only sign of emotion since learning the news, snapped off the radio. An unspoken truce silenced the two of us for the remainder of the tense commute.
It was anything but business-as-usual that morning as employees and management crowded into the main conference room to view the televised images of a mission gone so horribly wrong. Hushed murmurs of disbelief mingled with sobs set the tone as we repeatedly watched the two solid rocket boosters corkscrew across the cold, morning sky, trailing brilliant white plumes of frozen vapor. Out of the flame of the descending shuttle came objects still belching white smoke. In mounting horror we watched as the ship began to break up and fall blazing into the sea.
Television monitors at the spaceport showed paramedics parachuting into the sea near the shuttle’s main impact point. A rescue force was dispatched to track down the big pieces and see what might be done. We watched the slow-moving men laboring to unload the remains of the seven recovered from the Atlantic ocean.
Eventually I went back to my office and pretended to work until it was time for the evening commute. As we inched our way through rush hour traffic, my husband and I listened to updates about the Challenger and the six astronauts and one teacher that perished that day. Christa McAuliffe. Dick Scobee. Gregory Jarvis. Judith Resnik. Michael Smith. Ronald McNair. Ellison Onizuka. The entire nation felt the impact of the loss of those seven names, but for those of us in Hawaii it was even more personal. Ellison Onizuka, the first Japanese American astronaut, was from Hawaii and with increasing frequency his name and birthplace were mentioned by Hawaii’s newscasters.
A contemplative mood replaced the tense atmosphere of the morning ride as we each thought about the disaster. How ridiculous of me to think any part of my life was a disaster by comparison. The ill-fated Challenger was a tragedy of major proportions that would have ripple effects throughout the space program and the nation. As we approached the nursery school to pick up our sons, I couldn’t help but think of Ellison’s wife, Lorna, and their two children. Suddenly my marriage didn’t seem quite so disastrous.
The children’s carefree, happy laughter greeted me as I got out of the car and walked into Sunshine Preschool. My active, healthy sons ran to greet me chattering about the events of the day. In comparison, there were two children that in Hawaii who would never again see their father. There was a wife who would never have a chance to make up after an argument. Spurred by thoughts of an intact family, and grateful that I still had a chance to work out our problems, I thanked God as I held each child by a hand and walked them to the car.
The state of my marriage on January 28, 1996 was not a disaster but it certainly felt hopeless. Dinah Shore once said, “There are no hopeless situations — only people who are hopeless about them.”
Yes, there were things about both my husband and I that needed changing, but before that day I had been hopeless to the possibility of change. I had been trying to solve every problem myself instead of trusting God for guidance, comfort, and hope.
Trusting God meant relinquishing the safe yet faulty methods I had devised for getting through each day. Now I needed to act out my faith and that meant loving my husband exactly as God had outlined in 1 Corinthians 13.
I wish I could tell you that the Challenger acted as the catalyst that healed our marriage, but I can’t. It did, however draw me closer to God and teach me to trust Him in every area of my life. It also changed my perspective on what constitutes a disaster. That day I realized that a disaster is really a matter of perspective and that as long as I have faith I have hope, and when I have hope, nothing is a disaster.