I was in 10th grade 34 years ago this week, in Bend, Oregon, when I heard the news. We’d moved to Bend that summer and I still felt like a newcomer, even though Jan. 28th is almost exactly half-way through the school year. After a rough start I’d made a few friends, but none of them were in my Social Studies class when I walked in late that day.
I had a very good excuse for being late.
When the bell rang after the previous class and 1,000 students swarmed the commons area to visit their lockers, televisions were being rolled out into the chaos. I switched one textbook for another and glanced at the tv’s on my way towards the Social Studies room.
Students swarmed around, making it difficult to see the screens, but when I finally saw what was transpiring on the air, I was shocked. Somber newscasters narrated the unfolding story, showing over and over on the screen what had just happened: the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding in space.
The commons area emptied, but still I stayed, eyes glued to the screen. This was horrific. My dad knew some astronauts from his work in the Air Force, which brought it close to home. The tragedy playing out was not something I could just glance at and hurry past.
I remember thinking, “I’m going to be late for class, but he’ll understand. This is Social Studies in the making!” But when I finally tore myself away and walked into the class, he hollered at me anyway. (I’d never been late before, mind you.) I opened my mouth to tell him he was an idiot but what came out was something more like, “I was watching history unfold.”
I took my seat and settled in for a dull hour ahead. I don’t remember what we studied that day, but I do remember thinking that what I’d just seen on TV was a lot more interesting. I did not know, at the time, that it would become one of those moments that I’d never forget.
We all have those moments in our lives when we can remember exactly what we were doing when momentous news came our way. My first was when I was in fifth grade and over the brand-new intercom system, they broadcast the news that President Reagan had been shot.
And then there’s 9/11. I was in a school then, too, only I was a teacher by then. I was getting ready for the school day, teaching English at Faith Christian High School in Bigelow, when my students began trickling in with news of a plane crashing into one of the Twin Towers. “What a sad accident,” I said. And then another student entered, saying, “I heard it was two planes,” and I knew, in that instant, that it wasn’t an accident.
There are personal moments, too, that are seared into my brain. Like when Pan Am went bankrupt and my dad lost his job. Like when my mom was diagnosed with cancer. Or, on the positive side, the moment when I knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I wanted to marry Colin O’Donnell.
Memorable moments, both good and bad, are, well, unforgettable! They sear into our souls, changing the way we reference our lives. But the truth is, most of life happens in the forgettable moments. Space Shuttle Challenger’s last 73 seconds are what we remember. Never mind the nine successful previous missions. Life is made up of far more forgettable moments than memorable ones, and God works in those everyday circumstances of our lives all the time, it just may not be as obvious as when he works in the bigger moments.
I’ve got a lot more to say about this! Tune in next week for more on our everyday moments.
All of Psalm 23 comes to mind right now, but I’ll leave you with this, verse 6: “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life…”
Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is email@example.com.