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Kayaking today was a bust. We woke up early to have brekkie before the sun rose (this is the month of fasting for Baha’is), but then we went back to sleep. By the time Lorenia and I got out of bed at 11am to find her sister Marianna already awake, the prospect of driving to Tampa to spend $225 for a half day at Busch Gardens had lost its appeal. We settled on kayaking, in spite of Lorenia’s sunburn and allergy to mosquitoes (kudos to her bravery in that regard). Rather than drive an hour to Orlando for kayaking in Wekiva Springs, we called a local place and decided to paddle through the mangrove swamp. Unfortunately, upon arrival the owner informed us that he had rented his seven kayaks to a large group before we could get there. Unfazed, we regrouped at Starbucks (for Marianna, obviously, it is the Fast) and revised our plan of attack. We settled on putt-putt golf.
On the way to Starbucks we drove through the intersection where, three and a half years ago, I witnessed a fatal motorcycle accident. I thought about it as we passed, as I do every time I drive through that intersection, but chose not to voice the memory to my passengers. After Starbucks we got back in the car to drive about five blocks north to the miniature golf course. Spring Break traffic was poking along at about 35mph, moving in pulses through the redlights. We passed a motorcyclist tailgating an economy car in the left lane. He was wearing a black helmet, but no shirt.
“I’m glad he’s wearing a helmet, but if he gets into an accident, his chest, arms, shoulders and all the skin on his torso are gone,” I said aloud. I was thinking of a skidding accident, though, not a collision.
At that moment, someone about six cars ahead in his lane slowed to make a left turn. I could see the traffic braking in his lane. My lane was clear, but his was quickly coming to a complete stop. I watched him in my rearview mirror, trying to inform him telepathically. I lost sight of him behind the traffic in his lane. Suddenly I heard his engine rev to the redline. Was he being impatient? A split second later, a sickening, crunching thud. No tire screech. Just 35 to zero in an instant.
I lifted my foot from the accelerator, unsure of what to do. I remember thinking, “If I were I doctor, I would be required by law to stop.” As distance grew between us and the accident, I saw the driver of the economy car get out and walk to the rear of his car to see what the heck had just transpired. I considered calling 911, but most times I phone in accidents they tell me I’m the fifth caller. Within a few seconds we made our turn into “Fantasy Adventure Golf.” I sat in the car for a few minutes while Lorenia patiently talked me through it.
Looking back, it’s quite possible that his engine revved by accident as he panicked when reaching for the brake and hit the throttle instead. At the time, however, it sure seemed as though he was using it to voice his impatience. And it certainly isn’t intelligent to follow a car with only five feet between you and the bumper. As Lorenia pointed out, physics always wins.
Still, he was wearing a helmet. Shirt or no, I don’t wish accident or injury on anyone. We all make our own choices when faced with this reality. Were we callous to keep going? Not really. The world cannot afford to stop for every human death. That is, assuming he died, which is a very good possibility. We humans die at a rate of more than one per second. We’re born even faster. Life, for better or worse, always moves on. Your circle of influence affects the size of the ripple through the fabric of society that your absence leaves, but in the scheme of the universe, we don’t register. Thankfully for my sanity, I believe in an omnipotent and benevolent Creator, or else this line of reasoning might drive me to suicide. I said two prayers for him: a healing prayer in case he survived and is in a hospital as I type, and a prayer for the departed in case his soul has moved on to the next world.
You might find it interesting to go back and read my account of the last time I witnessed a motorcycle accident in Cocoa Beach, contrasting it with this one, given the knowledge that when I wrote the 2005 entry I was not a Baha’i and could not bring myself to believe in God. I figure now that if I’ve seen two of these wrecks in five years, it must happen all the time. Just like people dying. And life always goes on, just like it did for us.
We played eighteen holes.
I am getting chills…chills…listening to Oprah’s interview of Rainn Wilson, better known as Dwight Schrute on the Office. To hear Oprah, vanguard of American opinion, the billionaire African American woman with a direct line into living rooms across the country, mention the Baha’i House of Worship in Chicago in reverent tones sent a shiver down my spine. Do yourself a favor and tune in to this funny, enlightening, and uplifting interview about acting, Chicago, the Baha’i Faith, art as prayer, service to humanity as our highest calling, and the meaning of soul pancake.
First, to my father. Without him, there are countless reasons I wouldn’t be here.
So here’s to both of you! We celebrated in fine style this week, with the crew of STS-124 returning to KSC to visit the employees on Monday. I had the distinct privilege of meeting and speaking with Aki Hoshide, Mike Fossum, Ron Garan and Ken Ham. During the question and answer session I asked about their views on the future of space exploration, since Space X successfully launched the Falcon rocket into orbit on their fourth attempt just this Sunday, making it history’s first private orbital spacecraft.
Ron gave a brilliant answer, one which I didn’t forsee and which settles the false dichotomy between public and private space. Many people aren’t aware how much NASA supports private space exploration, even putting their money where their mouth is and seed-funding several startups, not to mention making arrangements for future private-party resupply missions to the International Space Station. Ron said it’s time for NASA to leave LEO (Low Earth Orbit) to the startups, and venture outward into the solar system. The ISS is an incredible outpost, and we should operate it as intended, as an international microgravity science laboratory, but it should be resupplied with cargo and crew by private companies. NASA should throw its weight behind efforts where it has historically excelled, namely exploration. It makes sense to field more robotic missions to planets and NEOs (Near Earth Objects) and to embark on human exploration and settlement of the Moon and Mars. It’s a beautiful symbiosis. Ron emphasized that NASA and other government space programs are the only ones capable of pursuing the goals that are “seventy years out,” meaning the missions for which there is no immediately discernible financial return, but which intangibly benefit us all. LEO is ripe for commercial expansion. But Elon Musk doesn’t have the $40 billion it’s going to take to put a human on Mars. Yet.
Today, on the golden anniversary of NASA beginning operations, the employees of the Kennedy Space Center celebrated by walking, running and rollerblading 1-mile, 5K and 10K courses on the three-mile-long Shuttle Landing Facility. I take special pride in being the person who started the rollerblading tradition (much to the chagrin of the competitive runners) four years ago. Each year we have a greater number of dorks in helmets out on the slab. It’s fantastic fun. This year marks the first time I’ve been beaten to the finish line!
The highlight for me, though, is after the race. It’s not the free catered food and sports drinks, the camaraderie and the swag, all of which are good. It’s the chance to see what goes on nearly every day at the SLF, up close and personal. Astronaut pilots and commanders are training all the time in the STAs (Shuttle Training Aircraft), modified Gulfstreams with sophisticated flight controls and avionics to make them fall out of the sky just like space shuttles.
Today there were two STAs on the tarmac, and anyone who was brave enough to ask got a guided tour. There’s nothing in the world like sitting in the pilot seat of a split-down-the-middle frankenstein machine, half shuttle, half executive jet, looking through the futuristic transparent HUD (Head Up Display) as the astronauts arrive in their T-38 supersonic jets to train in the very seat in which you sit. We got the royal treatment, too, staying onboard while the engines spooled up and meeting the former astronauts and maintenance officers for the SR-71 and U-2 who teach the younger flyboys and flygirls how to handle the magnificent birds. I learned more in one evening about the STA than I have in all my years as an aerospace engineer. These planes have the longest service history of any Gulfstream (a company also celebrating its 50th) aircraft ever produced. The engines are different, as are the thrust reversers, the 30-degree-positive flaps, and countless other systems that give these planes their jekyll-and-hyde personality.
As I skated back to the car, the sky turned various brilliant shades of pink and orange as more astronauts arrived in their jets. I bid the crew farewell and said a silent prayer of thanks for the privilege I enjoy, working every day at the greatest spaceport on Earth, for an organization responsible for some of the crowning achievements of our era and that has contributed so much to humankind.
a gift from within the stone fortress
sent on feathered wings
graced with golden dust
in the form
of an embrace
with a gossamer key
to the shackles of my own design
a prayer for peace
sent back with the dove
to the point round which all angels
At the opthamologist today, my pupils were dilated as part of the exam. Even with the complimentary Terminator shades, the late afternoon sun seemed as though it had discovered a new fusile element and was churning out radiation at a hundred fold its normal pace. I was amazed to discover how reliant I am upon my vision, from navigating the road to choosing ripe bananas. It’s another world when you can’t see the ingredient list at the grocery store or can’t bear the sight of oncoming headlights.
Becoming a Baha’i is a similar experience, except that the Sun is always shining brighter, and is only limited by the growth of your vision, not its infinite and inexhaustible light. Just the other day I mailed one of my two prayer books to New Zealand, in support of a Baha’i art project that seeks to change the way we view spirituality in art. It was an exercise in detachment, as life itself seems to be, to part with something associated with fond memories. This was the book I received upon joining my Brevard County community, the book from which I memorized the Tablet of Ahmad.
But the paper and glue themselves matter little; just as what’s more important than the words of a prayer is the spirit in which it is uttered. I shouldn’t be surprised, then, that today, within a week of giving up something that seemed so precious, I should receive what I can only characterize as a divine confirmation. When I opened my mail this evening, I discovered a crimson tome with gilt letters reading, “Prières Bahá’íes.” It took but a moment to discern that this was a gift from my dear friend Atoosa on my first rebirthday, the one-year anniversary of my declaration.
How amazing to read a prayer you know by heart in another tongue. I cannot fathom the doors this will unlock, the bonds of illumination it will forge, to simultaneously explore my love for the French language and my adoration of Baha’u’llah.
Thank you, Atoosa joon.
If there’s one thing I’m learning about writing it’s that when inspiration strikes, you must strike back, while the iron is hot. Some of you are probably wondering after the whereabouts of that potentially controversial essay I planned to write on Thursday, the day Lazi got into a car accident that left her and her friend upside down, hanging from their seatbelts. Don’t worry, she’s ok. But you see how easy it is to get distracted? Now it’s three a.m. after a life-changing weekend and my head is full of five pages that I can’t afford to sacrifice sleep to commit to words. God forgive me, but I feel I must resort to the dreaded bullet list. Behold: as many highlights from the weekend as I can remember. Rest assured there are hundreds more my poor brain is already forgetting as the cup overfloweth.
Some of you may not know my friend and travel buddy Denise, and others still may not know that she is one of the few female swoopers in the world. What is swooping? Call it “extreme skydiving.” As if the sport weren’t already extreme enough. But Dee is a competitor and an adventurer, and while she may bring sunshine to our lives she’s also tough as nails. Which is why I didn’t hear about her recent skydiving accident until today. I had to phone her to find out. She’s alive, doing ok, but her legs are banged up pretty bad and needless to say she’s out of the competition for this week. If there were one thing I could ask for right now, it would be for your prayers. Thank you my friends.