The last year we lived in Missouri, I was a fourth grader, and my father had taken over the division chapel where the basic trainees came every Sunday by the hundreds (if they went to a church service, they didn’t have to participate in drills). What I remember most from that year, was a family that moved in down the street from us, and discovered, in a heavy trunk in their garage, the body of their four-year-old son, who had climbed into the trunk with three newborn kittens and suffocated. My father performed the funeral. He cried when he told us.
It was called a family tragedy, as though it could be contained by that single group of people.
In January of the following year, the space shuttle Challenger exploded. Someone came to the door of our classroom, and Ms. Moos, our teacher, announced the news in a trembling voice. We watched the shuttle explode again and again that afternoon. The teachers consoling one another, while we sat at our desks, awestruck. Alive and then not. Momentum and then pieces. I had just turned eleven and was startled to discover that it could all be over so quickly. Blinked out. That’s what could happen.
It was connected, the boy in the trunk and the astronauts in the shuttle. The horror of it. The senselessness. And I was too young to know there is never sense in it. Never reason, though later someone might offer explanations. That is how tragedy binds us, how we are drawn together by the weight of what we cannot set down.