Even though I am an early riser, I’m not one of those people that jumps out of bed and is out the door to hit the gym, or take a walk, or do much of anything physically active. I’m more a cup of coffee and newspaper kind of guy. Lately, I’ve had to be a little careful of what I choose to read about in the paper, or I will sink into a depression that sends me right back to bed.
The grief over the Orlando shooting seems almost exhausted, and then I hear about a Sacramento pastor who has already delivered a sermon declaring that the Orlando victims “got what they deserved” and that the only sad thing is that more of them weren’t killed. Really? A pastor?
I’m starting to skip most of the presidential election coverage and really wish the election could be next week instead of having to watch five long and painful months of moves and countermoves, accusations and lies. I try not to read the articles, but it is nearly impossible. It’s like trying to take your eyes off of a slowly evolving but inevitable train wreck that no one can stop.
So when I see something in the paper that really inspires me, I sometimes will clip it out as I did last March when an obituary, of all things, caught my eye.
It was written in tribute to Bob Ebeling (1926-2016) and was entitled Predicted Challenger Disaster. A booster rocket engineer, Ebeling and other members of his team had begun to worry that the cold temperatures might harm the O-ring seals of the booster joints allowing burning rocket fuel to leak out—the exact problem that led to the Challenger explosion.
Ebeling becamed convinced that the mission and the astronauts were in grave danger. He gathered data that illustrated the risks and spent hours arguing with his bosses to delay the launch. In the end, his concerns were dismissed, and sadly, his predictions were proven to be accurate.
The part of the obituary that got to me though was that he was wracked by guilt over what had happened. He became convinced that he should have done more to stop the launch. He felt personally responsible for something completely outside of his control. After a twenty-year career with NASA, he retired a few months after the disaster.
After he left NASA, he and his wife immersed themselves in conservation work, spending hundreds of hours restoring a bird refuge near his home. “It was his way of trying to make things right,” his daughter was quoted as saying.
But apparently he was gripped by the guilt until just a few months before his death at age 89, when he was featured as a part of an NPR story on the 30th anniversary of the Challenger disaster, and Ebeling was inundated by hundreds of supportive phone calls and letters. His daughter revealed that “It was like the world gave him permission, they said ‘OK you did everything you could possibly do, you’re a good person.’” So this good man, this honorable man finally found peace in the last three months of his life.
It made me think a lot about self-forgiveness, something with which I struggle. It may be time to put a post-it over my desk that reads, “I’m doing the best that I can” and then try letting go.
Note: As hard as I tried to keep this all in my own words I may have used a phrase of two directly from the AP account of his death. My apologies to the obit authors of the Associated Press.