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Are you able to recall your first memory in life?

I’ve read studies that most of our earliest memories in life are often the most dramatic ones. It is as if they are worth remembering because they are scenes that often shape our lives in one way or another. One of those scenes for me was the Space Shuttle Challenger Explosion. If you are in your mid thirties or older, you will probably remember it. I remember vaguely that beautiful yet tragic morning of January 28th, 1986. Like 9/11, it was hard to escape the images of the shuttle exploding in mid-air.

If you were a student , you were likely in class watching this. If you were an adult, you either saw it on the morning news or the radio as you were driving to work. I don’t remember being in class watching it but I do remember the images on the tv that day and wondering what was real or a cartoon. I was a 7-year-old boy and fascinated with space travel. This was a unique shuttle mission because it was the first involving the NASA Teacher in Space Project, an initiative dreamed up during the Reagan Administration. It was hopeful

My parents would often talk about where they were when President Kennedy was assassinated. I remember thinking later in life that perhaps this was one of those moments in history for me to remember for better or worse.

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President Reagan’s message captured the moment,

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them — this morning, as they prepared for their journey, and waved good-bye, and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’

I’ve thought about the Challenger disaster from time to time since then. I was at our Nashville Adventure Science Center y recently and ran across quotes from McAuliffe that brought me back to that day.

Christa McAuliffe  was a social studies teacher and one of the seven crew members that perished in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. She seemed to be such an optimist and her heart for teaching was evident. She knew about past tragedies involving the space program and despite the risks, she had this opinion,

Every shuttle mission’s been successful.

She was right. After each mission, something new is learned for better or worse.

My next space shuttle memory was two years later in 1986 when our 4th grade class gathered in our schoolroom to watch Space Shuttle Discovery take off. It was beautiful and sent a loud and clear message: Tragedy and mistakes happen but we must keep moving forward and upward. The greater loss would be if we quit trying. I remember being in awe of watching Discovery take off. It is what brings me to tears at the end of the movie October Sky seeing the rocket lift off.

In 2011 when the last Space Shuttle Atlantis took off, I made sure my girls sat down with me to watch. We recorded it on our DVR and watched it multiple times. Each time it launched, they cheered. I wanted the girls to see what it was like to be always looking up, soaring, and to always tackle the unknown. It’s easier to preach than practice but by attempting to teach them, I have learned that these scenes are all part of life’s process. Challenger was not NASA’s last disaster as Columbia was lost in 2003 and I’d expect things to happen as it is the occasional price of exploration. The space program is in a wilderness now but there are probably several people at NASA who know that this is not the end and will never stop trying. They have Christa McAuliffe to thank as well as the many more who perished.

I’ll leave you with McAuliffe’s words:

Reach for it. Push yourself as far as you can.

Thank you teacher.

My Stan Musial Story

January 20, 2013 — 4 Comments

On Saturday evening, January 19th, 2013, beloved St. Louis Cardinal legend  Stan Musial passed away. In his Hall of Fame career, he helped the Cardinals win three World Series titles, won three MVPs, had 3,630 hits and 475 home runs, won the NL batting title seven times, while also appearing in a record 24 All-Star games. Despite all of those accomplishments, he even gave up the 1945 season to serve in the Navy during World War II. One of my favorite additional pieces is that in 1957, he became the first major league player to earn an annual salary of $100,000. After a sub-par season in 1959 and hit a career low .255, Musial asked the Cardinals to cut his salary to $80,000. Can you imagine someone today doing that? In 2011 he was given the much deserved Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. The numbers speak for themselves. But there is more to the man than the numbers.

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His statues grace Busch Stadium in St. Louis because of something different many always knew. There is a reason people would call him “The Man” that most people outside of St. Louis would not have had the opportunity to witness. The blessing for anyone living in St. Louis was that sooner or later you would have run into Stan The Man. I saw him at several events playing the harmonica or interacting with people at a game. That was just his character. I never got to see him play but I did get to see something even more special.

When I was 18, I was caddying and working in the pro shop at Old Warson Country Club in Ladue, Missouri. That summer of 1997, I was also worked as a “greeter”, which meant that I was the person who welcomed people driving up to the front entrance to drop off their golf bag before parking. My job was to make sure they had a pleasant and smooth experience.

One day, the legendary Cardinals broadcaster, Jack Buck, came to play with his son Joe (now famous as Fox Sports Commentator), and they brought none other but Stan the Man. It was special day because while they were warming up on the golf range, both Jack and Stan stayed to talk with me for thirty minutes.  I don’t remember specifically what we discussed but they were so cordial and interested in my life, and avoiding the temptation to talk about themselves. Once their time was ready, they went off to play their golf round.

Four hours later, I was slammed by a large group of people from a tournament that came in from the course so I was taking care of 4 or 5 people at any given moment. Unfortunately, the Buck-Buck-Musial threesome came back in at the same time and Stan walked up to me while I was running around.

Stan said to me while handing me his shoes and car keys,

“Hey Dave (yes he remembered my name), do you mind putting my shoes in my car while I go back and get something inside the clubhouse?”

I quickly replied,

“Yes of course, Stan. Right away.”

I immediately took care of that task because it was Stan and went back to taking care of every other golfer who needed help. When Stan came back from the clubhouse, he walked toward me and said,

“Dave, I’m ready to go. Do you have my keys?”

I put my hands in my pockets to get the keys and they weren’t there. I replied,

“One moment Stan, I’ll go find them, I think they are in the golf cart.”

I walked back to the cart and they weren’t there. I wondered where in the world I left them. I did what I knew and retraced my steps. I walked back all the way to Stan’s trunk of his car. I stopped and stared at the trunk for a few moments.

I thought to myself, Oh my God, I locked his keys in his trunk with his golf shoes. I’m dead. I’m fired. My boss will kill me. This is it, I’m done. Game over for me at Old Warson. I was the village idiot. On top of that, the realization that I just locked the keys in the car of a legend, my dad’s boyhood hero, Stan The Man, was hitting me. There was nothing I could do because I needed to tell him. So, I humbly walked back to Stan and as I approached him, Jack Buck walked up next to Stan. This became the humiliation-fest times ten now.

I said in a lowly voice,

“Stan, I am so sorry but I locked your keys in the trunk of your car with your shoes. I was moving much too fast and I’m incredibly sorry. How can I make this right?”

Stan replied with a big smile,

“Oh Dave no sweat at all, Jack is right here and he can take me to my house to get my spare set. We’ll be right back.”

The thirty minutes they were gone was agonizing to me because I was so worried that my boss would find out and they would be frustrated when coming back.

When they came back to me, both Jack Buck and Stan said,

“Thank you, Dave”

Then they handed me a $20 tip with 2 front row tickets for the Cardinals game that night. I was speechless but quickly regained composure to thank them.

It was the tip of a hat grace I will always remember. It was the character and action of real grace that Stan Musial will always remind me of in life. I remember coming home to tell my dad about what happened and he laughed so hard. I think he gave me a hug that night too as a reminder that no matter what mistakes we make in life, there is always a need to show another person grace. My story is not unlike many others who encountered Stan The Man thank God. It was his ongoing story of grace given to all of us.

Thank you Stan for that memory. For all of the memories.

Thank you for inspiring all of us.

Thank you for showing all of us what real grace looks like. 

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