Monday, September 15, 2003

Failure Is Not An Option

Every time I board a jet, the possibility of death crosses my mind. I worry about my three girls and whether, if I never returned, they would understand how I could leave them for business. More recently, after 9/11, I think of the passengers on those four fated planes, and how their souls must have been screaming out for family, friends, and things they meant to do, as they each realized they had less than 30 seconds to live. I always think of the woman who, having given birth six weeks before, was just back on the job, on a business trip for her boss. Sometimes it is hard to get the heavy boot out of my chest.

I have only been homesick once, in Hong Kong. I stayed in a beautiful hotel in Kowloon. I ate fresh seafood at a table on a pier. I toured Victoria Harbor by boat and learned about dragons and feng shui. I was surrounded by pace, color, and magic and I should have loved it. On the third night, I could not sleep. I surfed the Chinese television stations and found, oddly it seemed, the film Apollo 13. As timing is everything, I fell in love with the movie, and Ed Harris (again).

I went to Chicago this weekend. While there, friends took me to a restaurant called Lovell's. It did not dawn on me until I walked in and saw the painting of the Four Horses of Apollo, astronaut memorabelia, and movie photos of Tom Hanks, that we were at the restaurant owned by the Jim Lovell, the real Captain of Apollo 13; the guy that Tom Hanks was trying to be. When Jim came into the room to say hello, my knees went weak. I have only felt like this once before. I had gone to the Mayor's inaugural event at an old castle-like armory in Buffalo. I was darting through dark corridors looking for a shortcut. Suddenly, walking towards me in one narrow passageway was pre-murder charge, former Buffalo Bill, OJ Simpson. He was not as tall as I expected, but he seemed bigger than life and my knees went numb, my arms lost their blood, and my brain turned to sawdust. I eeked out a feeble, "My daddy used to take me to see you when I was little." Brilliant.

So here was Jim Lovell. I grabbed my camera. I quickly considered whether I could get his attention. I wondered who I could give the camera to to take the shot. Would I be making a scene? Should I take it of him, or get in it myself? I thought so much, that I was still thinking and thinking, frozen to my chair, as he walked out of the room. Brilliant again.

I did manage to capture him in a mental photo, however. For a split second, I studied his tall, slightly bent stature against the calm-colored walls of the dining room. I then tried to picture him in a tiny space capsule, years ago and miles above the earth, staying calm. He had been up there and almost lost for good, and yet here he was very much alive.

The next time I board a plane, I will think of Lovell's courage, and maybe relax just a little. But I still cannot forget about that new mom . . .

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