Friday, January 28, 2011

25 Years Later: Remembering the Space Shuttle Challenger

It was a beautiful, sunny morning. It was unusually cold that day...well, at least for Florida. But, as I got ready for another day at Howard Bishop Middle School in Gainesville, the sun was shining and the cold seemed to be giving way to another, ordinary pleasant day in the Sunshine State. But it was not an ordinary day. It was January 28, 1986.

At 11:45 am, I sat at lunch with my fellow sixth-graders and we were chatting and eating. No one really discussed the day's shuttle launch, because we had been to see a shuttle launch the previous fall for a field trip. We'd been there, done that - it was no big deal anymore. You know how 13 year olds are.

The assistant principal, who sat on the stage during lunch hour in our cafeteria/auditorium, hushed us all out of the blue. He never did that -- we were allowed a little free reign at lunchtime. He put a portable radio on, and held his microphone up to the speaker. The news was reporting that something terrible had happened at the Cape; the very place we'd gone to watch our space program in action only a few short months previously.

We all ran to look out the building windows. There it was - the fateful plume of smoke in the sky. The evidence that showed us what that what we were hearing on the radio was real, and not just a nightmare.

It was a sad day. For our space program, for our national spirit, for Americans...the whole world. I think we all lost a bit of innocence that day. It was a shocking event, especially in my young life. As a young person, you already have a certain sense of invincibility. And, as a young American especially, you are taught from practically birth that the world is yours to conquer. American exceptionalism, freedom, and indomitable spirit are part of your upbringing. To experience, for the first time, a chink in our national armor, exposed a vulnerability that I don't know if, at 13, I was quite ready for.

I mourned, with the rest of the country, the brave astronauts that we lost that day. We saluted them then, and we still remember today. I hope the 25th anniversary of this tragedy will remind all of us of the spirit of discovery that exists in humankind, and that our exploration of worlds and places beyond Earth will long the memory of the Challenger 7.

"The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honoured us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth' to 'touch the face of God.' "

President Ronald Reagan

January 28, 1986

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Blackpool 2-3 Manchester United
Our heroes, Dimitar Berbatov and Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez

You will never, ever find a more dramatic team to follow. Manchester United uniquely provides its fans with the lowest lows and the highest highs. Yesterday's match (coming back from a 2-nil deficit to win) was proof of that. There is nothing in the world like being a Manchester United supporter. Glory, glory Man United!

Monday, January 24, 2011

(Somerset) Reds to the Rescue!

I. Got. TICKETS!!!!

All hail the power of Twitter! I have long extolled the virtues of this particular social network for the many good things it's brought me -- incredible friends, fantastic banter, and a global perspective on things and events, just to name a few.

But now, thanks to Twitter, I also have my dream back!

I follow the leader of group of Manchester United supporters from the Somerset area of England. I don't know him very well, and we've only recently begun following each other and chatting. When he heard of my ticket plight and my subsequent depression/desperation, he invited me to join his group, and offered to help me find tickets.

I don't know how he did it, as everyone wants to go to this match, but he worked some miracle and found us tickets!! Words cannot express my gratitude to this man. His response to my profuse indebtedness was simply "That's what it's all about - helping each other out." I feel like he's my fairy godfather, and I'm Cinderella finding out I am getting to go to the ball after all. (Credit to my friend Rory for that analogy!).

Needless to say, I am over the moon. I will never be able to repay my benefactor for his kindness, and I am overwhelmed by his altruism. If this is how he treats a complete stranger, I am pretty sure I'm not the only one!

Follow Somerset Reds on Twitter:
Join the Somerset Reds:

Friday, January 21, 2011

Theatre of Dreams...Deferred.

Sooooo...way back in September, my husband and I booked a trip to Manchester. If you've read this blog, you know that the two of us eat, breathe, sleep and live Manchester United. Actually going to Old Trafford, and seeing our beloved football team play at their home stadium is a trip of a lifetime, a pilgrimage...a dream come true.

When we first decided it was time for us to pay homage to Old Trafford, it was incredibly exciting. I couldn't believe I was actually going to experience this storied ground that I'd seen on television, that I'd heard so much about from friends in Manchester, and that I'd read and dreamed about. As exciting as it was, there were many pieces of the puzzle that had to fit together just perfectly in order for our dream to become a reality.

First off, we had to wait for the 2010/2011 fixtures list to come out. Obviously, we are going to see United play; it's our passion and our reason for making the trip. So we had to make sure they were going to have a match at Old Trafford during our visit!

Secondly, we had to decide what time of year to go, and what match we wanted to see. As parents, a childless, transatlantic trip just wasn't feasible for us in the fall. Our children have school starting, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. All things very important to our boys - not only the actual day of, but all of the fun events and activities leading up to it. So, we would go after the first of the year, we decided. Again, spring poses the same problems for parents as the fall does, (Spring sports, Easter, etc.) but luckily, the very important City derby was the weekend of February 11th. We found our match.

One hurdle was left. In order to obtain tickets for the match, you have to apply for tickets. Unfortunately, the ballot didn't begin accepting applications until December 31 for a February match. If we wanted to go, there was no way we could wait that long to book flights or a hotel without spending the boys' university fund in the process. So, we had to take a gamble, book the flights & hotel, and just hope for the best in the ticket draw.

As soon as applications began being accepted, I was right on the computer submitting ours. I crossed my fingers, said a prayer, and put our dream into the hands of the football gods. After waiting 21 long, agonizing days to hear something from the United ticket office, I got "the" e-mail this morning. The one I dreaded. The one that broke my heart the minute someone over there hit Send.

"As we were heavily over-subscribed, a ballot has taken place and unfortunately your application was unsuccessful on this occasion."

Devastated. Gutted. Heartbroken. Dejected. All of these words don't even begin to scratch the surface of what I feel. I get that most people won't understand this. 'It's only a soccer game.' Ha. If you truly follow United, you know it's a religion, a passion, an integral part of your life. And this trip was more than a vacation with a football match thrown in for fun. It's even more than a dream come true, as I've described it. Going to Old Trafford is something that I know will make me breathe a little quicker, and send chills down my spine the moment I walk in. It's something that a supporter from over 3,500 miles away can usually only imagine...

They took that away from me.

Thankfully, through Twitter, I've met some really fantastic people who are trying their best to help me (you know who you are, and I love you for it). There is also a second ballot in a couple of weeks, and a ticket exchange. I can't even begin to express how desperate I feel, and how much I am hoping against hope that some miracle happens for us.

For now, it's a waiting game...

Monday, January 17, 2011

Thank You, Dr. King

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. "
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thank you, Dr. King, for making our country a better place. For all of us.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Arthritis, Schmarthritis!

The other week, I received two e-mails from different friends about arthritis. A friend's friend's daughter was diagnosed with the illness. A high school classmate was diagnosed. And they both got in contact with me to talk about it. I feel truly honored that they would want to share their diagnosis and feelings about it with me. I am no expert by any means, but I have been battling this disease for almost 20 years now, and it makes me so happy share some of the many lessons I've learned from it with other people in similar situations.

In 1990, I was a senior in high school. I was a cheerleader, had a fabulous group of friends and a great boyfriend. I was headed to the University of Delaware the following year, and you couldn't find a happier, more outgoing teenager than I was. The world was my oyster.

In the fall of that year, though, small things started happening with my body. I woke up one morning and couldn't straighten my elbow all the way out. On a vacation to Walt Disney World with my family, my hip gave out and was too sore to walk on. Eventually, all of the annoyances piled up, and even I had to admit there was something going on with me. I went to see so many doctors and had so many tests done! I saw an orthopedist, an orthopedic surgeon, was tested for Lyme disease...I even went to Childrens' Hospital in Washington, DC to have their specialists try and figure me out. In the end, I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid/Osteaoarthritis.

The blow was devastating. There was no cure. I was going to have to live with this pain for the rest of my life. I was set to go to college, something I had been looking forward to for years. How could I walk across the campus if I could barely move? Why would anyone want to be friends with me and my stupid swollen joints? There was no more cheerleading, of course. I'd be lucky to walk across the stage unassisted at graduation. My boyfriend was 18 - how would he deal with a girlfriend who'd gone from a partying captain of the cheerleading squad to a fragile teenager in the body of an 80 year old -- all in the space of a few months? And the meds to keep me somewhat mobile - I couldn't drink alcohol on them. So fraternity parties were pretty much out the window, too. I was heartbroken and I grieved for what I was losing.

Flash forward 20 years. I have all the the things I never thought I would: a wonderful husband, two fantastic sons, an incredible experience working on Capitol Hill. And I kinda think, without the arthritis, I wouldn't have any of it. Having arthritis ended up giving me so much more than I ever lost:

  • Acceptance. When I was first diagnosed, I was so afraid of being 'different.' When you're a teenager, and especially when going off to college, you desperately want to fit in, and be like everyone else. I didn't want to talk to anyone in the same situation as me, because they weren't like me. I was normal, they were not. Through my 20 year journey, I learned to accept not only my own situation, but also to accept that everyone has something that makes them different -- and special.
  • Determination. Although I came to realize and live with what my life circumstances had become, I had so many things I was looking forward to doing, and through sheer power of will, I did them all. I was determined to have the full college experience, and through working with my rheumatologist, we found the right medications that allowed me to lessen the pain considerably. I joined a sorority, lived with roommates, attended parties and graduated on time. I was determined to fulfill my dream of working in the United States Congress and I did. I was determined to have a family, and I did.
  • Patience. This might be the number one lesson I have learned through all of this. Nothing in life is quick or easy. Nothing worth having anyway. It's tougher for me to do anything, even open jars sometimes. I have had to become an exercise fanatic to keep my joints mobile. But, I know if I work hard and I am patient, I can accomplish anything anyone else can, even if it takes me a bit longer. This lesson has been extraordinarily valuable in all facets of my life - in the workplace, in my marriage, and especially when raising two crazy little boys!
  • Understanding. When I was diagnosed, my boyfriend, whom I thought was the love of my life, broke up with me. I was inconsolable, and I bemoaned his selfish, shallow behavior. I couldn't grasp why he couldn't help as I was going through all of this. As I got older, I started to understand a bit better. He was 18 years old. He was just starting his own life. Of course he was a bit selfish. He was just a kid. It was scary and overwhelming and of course he had to split. I wished I could! I guess this goes along with learning acceptance. In life, you have to put yourself in others' shoes, not only to empathize with their perspective, but also to shed light on your own situation.
  • Optimism. At the time of my diagnosis, I truly thought my life was over. Nothing in my future was going to be what I'd envisioned. I was in the darkest of places, and I couldn't see any way out. But life kept coming in spite of me, and I had to face it. I could either let this dastardly disease beat me, or I could show it who was boss. Nothing has ever been the same since I heard the word "arthritis," but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. My attitude since then is one of hope and sunny days ahead. No one ever got anywhere always anticipating the worst, and being frightened of what the future holds.
I would never go as far as to say that I'm glad I got arthritis. It's a terrible disease and I hate it. But, I have to respect it. I found medications that let me live my life relatively pain-free, and thanks to the exercise, I'm in the best shape I can be in. I have learned some incredibly important things from this disease that I might not have otherwise. I've determined that arthritis is what I have and not who I am, and I can recognize it as much a part of me as my blond hair. But make no mistake -- I am in charge. I did (and do!) what I want to do, and arthritis be damned. Arthritis, schmarthritis!