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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Is This Heaven ?

A True Story
by Mr. Williamson

Sometimes we forget the magic of our Center in the day to day running of the business. At times like these we need a gentle reminder of the awesomeness of the Space Center and what it means to some of the kids that come here.
Two weeks ago I had such a reminder. It was the morning mission. The bus arrived at 9:30 A.M. The students were bathroomed and lined up in the mural hallway by ship and position. I made my way to the bridge of the Voyager after a quick stop in the Control Room to start the loading music and sound effects. It was the end of the school year. I was tired of the music and tired of the mission. Its kind of a strange thing that only flight directors understand. You may be in tired, foul mood as you load your crew into the ship and train them to do their jobs but once you sit in your Flight Director’s Chair and dive into your character my attitude changes and I’m once again ready to give the story 100 percent.
I wasn’t in a foul mood this particular day but I was tired. I stood on the bridge waiting for the first crew of kids to ascend the spiral stairway. I was thinking about the long day ahead - four missions! I wouldn’t finish the day before 7:00 P.M. with little time off for lunch and a potty stop.
The first few students approached me.
“Boarding Pass,” I said in my unemotional, official Soviet Airline Voice.
The students fumble for the crumpled paper in their pockets and produce a wadded up mess for me to hand iron into something openable. I read their position and direct them to their seats. The third boy up the stairs was a slow walker. Slow walkers hold up the line as they shuffle forward taking in the sights and sounds of the Voyager’s atmosphere. This particular boy was mumbling something as he approached me. I couldn’t hear him because the loading music was playing to loud. He stopped in front of me, looked into my eyes and mumbled. I still couldn’t hear what he was saying. He was unfolding a piece of paper that was clearly not the Boarding Pass I had requested. He looked at me again while holding out this hand written note on cheap lined newsprint. I took the paper and asked him what it was.
“Is this Heaven?” I heard him mumble. I stopped dead in mid sentence.
His brown eyes were looking right into mine. Those of you that know me know that I’m hardly ever at a loss for words but right there, in front of that 5th grade boy, I was speechless.
For a split second I thought he was having me on. This was some kind of joke. He was being sarcastic. I studied his face like only a teacher can, to determine the truth in a student's words. His face, voice, and mannerisms all signaled truthfulness.
“Is this Heaven?” he asked again reverently. I didn’t answer and redirected his thoughts.
“What do you have here?” I asked while taking the paper from him.
He had written ‘Sensors’ at the top in red ink. Below was a jumble of words that described what he thought he was and the job he imagined he would be doing.
“This is me,” he said pointing to the paper. “This is what I do.”
For a moment I felt like Saint Peter at the Gates of Heaven. Here before me was a soul asking if this was heaven. In his outstretched hand was a written note telling me who he was and what he did. It was his way of saying he was ready and prepared to enter.
I handed the paper back to him and took him by the shoulder. I wanted to take a page from the Wizard of Oz and say “No Dorothy, you’re not in Kansas any more,” but realized he wouldn’t understand the meaning. I walked him to his chair and sat him down.
“This isn’t heaven Sensors Officer. This is the Starship Voyager and Welcome Aboard!” I said before turning toward the growing line of his classmates waiting for my attention.
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