I have almost no chance of becoming an astronaut. I'd estimate about .001%. I am 45, I've put on the weight that tends to go with writing a lot. I am in decent shape, yes, but not astronaut shape. But I applied to be one this morning at 05:28am.
Why'd I apply?
I applied to defy gravity, even if only in my mind.
When I write, I am excited by the blank space in front of me that I am searching to fill. In fact, space itself is more important to me, the emptiness is more important to me because I know I am going to dive in. I am going to risk and create. There's never danger having too much mental space.
When I was a scrawny skinny twerp growing up in New England, my mother worked at McDonalds to support us during the early 80's. This required me to get up at 6 with her so she could work the early shift, and then some days, stay late and get picked up at the public library around 4-5pm. I had those few hours after to read pretty much anything I wanted.
I was fascinated with two books in particular. National Geographic's History of Early Manned Spaceflight, and somewhat oddly, Darwin's On the On the Origin of Species. I also managed to pick up Freud's The Ego and the Id. You now know why I became the scorn of the Jesuits at St. Augustine's. I knew things most ten-year boys did not know. These were clunky books. I hid them in odd places amongst the stacks every day so I could find them the next day. When my mother would pick me up, especially in early winter, I'd stare out through the back window of our hatchback and watch the stars come up, and I'd think about how we'd crawled out of the sea as amphibians, and ended up shooting ourselves into outer space.
I applied this morning for the Astronaut program for purely sentimental reasons- if that is not entirely obvious. I applied for that skrawny kid, now some thirty-five years later who saw the trajectory of from beach-crawlers to moon walkers as a self-help plan. I applied to embrace the same awe CERN scientists expressed when they found the Higgs-Boson particle. I applied for the same reason all of us have dreamt of being something "out of reach", or unthinkable. That is our nature--and the very core of brilliant humanity. Hope.
I also applied not because I think NASA is going to choose me, but because I am always working to heal something in me. Even though I am never happy to admit it, I came up in this world from a rough childhood in many ways. Without diving into the sordid details, my experience was such that I could easily have given up and given into drugs, crime or simple apathy. However, I did not. I often think about why I did not; I certainly had a fairly large measure of doubt to contend. I did not give up because I sought that elusive, promising space. My childhood was very rough. I've written about it before, much as an aside. My home, like many, was filled with the almost ceaseless emotional and physical violence that accompanies alcoholism and joblessness. I have worked to overcome reverse these 'dents'. I am not looking for the slightest amount of pity from the reader. Those days are long gone. What is key is to recall what it took to get to here. Suffice it to say that anyone subjected to childhood trauma of any kind or for that matter to trauma, period owes it to themselves to reach for the stars again.
How did I get into this and this and how do I get out of it again, how does it end? —Søren Kierkegaard The challenges we face in this life shape who we are. Conflict and adversity can dull our innermost character but without them, we become soft and complacent. Character does not come without distinct challenges. In fact, I often marvel at just how precise the lessons we learn are. I believe that our problems are singular in some way--that that our lives are shaped to teach us very specific skills. How many of us do the work of a "moral inventory" to find out how our failures have influenced our overall outlook and the life we create in their aftermath? Honestly, is there any other force in our lives that is as profoundly formative than the bold-faced pain and mistakes we have experienced and, moreover, how we handled them?
In his book "Deep Survival, Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why", Laurence Gonzales explains that to maintain optimism (and sometimes save our lives) we must halt our negativity. When a negative thought creeps up on us, we must tell ourselves to stop. Extreme athletes use this technique to redirect their mental focus away from negative outcomes or self-doubt. The technique is hard to implement--particularly in negative situations, but it is important.
When faced with adversity, we have to continue to dream, all of us. In spite of the shadows and the gigantic space before us, we must challenge ourselves to do the impossible, do be who we are, and to at least try and get what we need from this life.
“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” Haruki Murakami Gravity is a given, if you have not noticed. Or is it?
Anything worth dreaming and doing defies social gravity. Dreams do not stick to Earth. They inspire to to take off from the ordinary. By definition–they move us. Our lives are about vision and action and collective energy. Above all else, our life must have a purpose.
Defy social gravity-a very wise person I know advises me on a regular basis. "Before you can change the way you think about people, change how you think about yourself." We can lift ourselves into orbit without becoming Astronauts. We break from the norm–change, grow and lead. We do not need settle or stick to earth. We can dream and we should always.
What's your anti-gravity?