Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Hairdresser Remembers the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

I know it's a weird thing to talk about, a disaster that happened, back in 1986. But I'm a hairdresser and disaster comes up a lot. I listen to disaster stories from my clients all the time. Disaster will happen to us, around us, and can touch our family and friends. All of us, young and old will be affected by them and it will influence our future decisions and shape our characters. When the space shuttle Challenger exploded, it was one of those events that changed the way I thought and therefore changed the way I made choices, even up to today.

I had come into work that morning, at the crack of 11 a.m. (I’m not a morning hairdresser-person!) and there was a hush in our usually bustley busy salon, Jon-Don’s, located on Naples Island, Long Beach, California.

My co-stylist, Carla, who’s hairstyling station was next to mine, had tears in her eyes and knew instantly when I had come into work that day that I had not yet listened to the news because I had my normal morning-dumb smile on my face, happy to start my day.
When Carla told me what had happened, that the Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded shortly after lift-off with all seven crew members on board, I did not believe her. You see, she had actually had a dream the previous night and then told all of us at Jon-Don’s about it. She had dreamed that the Space Shuttle had blown up and told us about it the day before the actual event. And so when I walked into work in my usual peppy mood, I thought she was joking.

I don’t remember how long it took for the clients, my boss, and my first client to actually make me believe this disaster had happened. But it took a while. I really thought they, all the clients and co-hairdresser’s, were playing a joke on me. Space Shuttles just didn’t blow up, and I had played some pretty good practical jokes on my co-workers in the past, so…

Do you know what convinced me? It was the emotion and empathy that the clients and my co-workers had for the crew and their surviving families and for the larger ramifications of the tragedy itself. A teacher by the name of Christa McAuliffe was on board for a Teacher in Space Program. The clients in my salon actually wept for the children of the world that had no-doubt been excitedly watching the live television feed in the safety of their own classrooms. This was the day when space missions were not common and kids had no cell phones and cable was not common, so watching the Challenger take off on TV at school was a big thing. And no one ever thought that NASA’s space ship with a teacher would explode while taking off. Things like this were just not common! That day, the women in my salon cried and shook their heads for all the people that were affected by the tragedy and they stayed in the salon for hours after their hair was done. It was as if the salon was a part of where we needed to be to help, to mourn, to understand. That salon experience made me think of how I thought small town barber shops were: a place where men would hang out, discuss town policies, celebrate and mourn.

When the two planes struck the buildings in New York City, it was a work day, yet I was still at home. I think I even saw the second plane hit, almost live. I remember thinking I’ve got to get to work. My room-mate at the time thought I was crazy. She knew I had to take the Red Line Chicago Train, from the Bryn Mawr station and get off at the Chicago Avenue stop. She tried to talk me out going because the trains went underground for three of the last stops and the world was surely coming to end (for all she and I knew) and we had no idea if planes were going to be dropping from the sky directly onto downtown Chicago.

I did go to work that day. And I comforted clients and expressed my own horror and dismay. We all talked about what we knew about what happened in New York, and then DC, when that news came in. We cried and said our silent prayers for the survivors of the tragedy and for their families, as well as for the safety of ourselves and our own families.

Tragedies have taught me that we need to stick together and talk about the disasters that strike us. We as human beings feel deeply for our fellow men, women, children and animals, and we honor that by doing things like going to a hair salon and talking about it. Crying about an earthquake in Haiti and then laughing about Lady GaGa’s last outfit while getting your highlight touched up is so right. So good and healthy.

What made me think of this was a tweet posting of an amateur video recently found showing the Space Shuttle disaster. I watched it and I cried. And then I remembered where I was after it happened. And it was then that I realized that this particular disaster changed me. It was one of the tragedies that affected my life and had made me go to work on 9/11 and then do things like donate my time to Haircuts for Haiti.

I’ll always be at the salon when you need me.

If you appreciate this blog: Read on. And subscribe to this blogspot and comment. You can always get more inspiration, chuckles and good information from this hairdresser at this is the video of the disaster.

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