A Book To Take You Out Of This World

Are you suffering from screen fatigue?

Need distraction from the daily gloom and doom?

If so, take a ride with NASA astronaut, Terry Virts. His captivating new book, How to Astronaut: An Insider’s Guide to Leaving Earth takes us on an incredible journey of spaceflight from training to launch, to orbit and re-entry. 

Terry’s goal for writing the book was to get readers saying “Wow!” and make them laugh.  I can attest that the author achieved his mission. 

Each of the 51 chapters–essays really–can be enjoyed in any order. Nothing overly technical or boring here. Bonus photos, too.

Terry Virts, an International Space Station Commander, is a terrific storyteller. His behind-the-scenes descriptions of astronaut training, zero gravity, first blastoff, on-board tasks, and spacewalks are illuminating and often funny.

If you ever wondered what it really takes to become an astronaut, the answer may surprise you.  (Hint: Start those Russian language lessons.)

Terry adresses other questions like: 

What happens if you get stranded in space? 

 Answer: “You have your whole life to figure it out”. 

What if a crew member dies while on board? 

Answer:  “You’ve got 3 choices…”

And one of the most common questions (after the bathroom one):

Have any astronauts ever had sex in space? 

Answer: Read the book to find out!

Virts covers not just the fantastic elements of spaceflight but the mundane details of daily life: bathing, watching movies, sleeping. An accomplished photographer, Virts helped make an IMAX movie while in space! (View some photos here.)

One of the funniest stories is how Terry became hairstylist to crew mate, Samantha Chirtoforetti, an Italian celebrity astronaut. Of all the skills Virt had to acquire, he says this ranked as one of the most “nerve-racking”.

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The chapter: “Space Tourism: What You Need To Know Before Signing Up” caught my interest. (Tip: Take the meds.) As a life-long space enthusiast , I always wished I had the Right Stuff to shuttle up, up and away.

In the final chapters, Terry reflects on how space exploration has profoundly changed his worldview. And soul. These essays were among my favorite. 

“Are We Alone? Is there a God”

“What Does It All Mean?” 

“…it was pretty obvious from my vantage point in space that there was no reason for the conflicts we have {on Earth}…We are all crew members on this spaceship, and we may as well get along and work together.

Just as Virts was finishing the manuscript, COVID-19 hit our country. His last chapter, “Isolation: Better on Earth or in Space?” offers advice on quarantining with humor and grace. This from a man who spent 200 days on the International Space Station.

With all the unrest here on Earth, outer space is looking pretty attractive right now.  While we won’t get the chance to escape Earth’s gravity any time soon, Virts’ entertaining book offers us a vicarious thrill. 

What out-of-this-world book do you recommend?

What do you miss right now?

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My friend told me she feels guilty about her sadness at missing her oldest son’s high school graduation when so many people have lost their lives to Corona virus.

I told her there is nothing to feel guilty about. There is no yardstick for grief. Yes, it can always be worse, yet why don’t we feel better when someone says this?

We are all experiencing loss right now of every magnitude.

We have lost our physical communities.

We have lost trust in our leaders.

We have lost milestone celebrations.

We have lost the freedom to travel freely.

We have lost the chance to attend that special concert.

We have lost our spot on the beach.

We have lost the ability to kiss our grandchildren.

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And much more.

Some losses caused by the Covid-19 pandemic aren’t apparent at first. They hit us as our child’s birthday approaches.  The hit us as we flip the calendar: Cape Cod trip. 

These losses may seem small but they add up. They loom large in our heart.

Before the pandemic, I tried keeping a gratitude journal as espoused by so many self-help gurus. My entries tended toward big things: family, friends, health, work, and home. It was hard to think of the small things.

That is, until they are gone.

Here’s one thing I missed early on: my morning writing space at the library.  This sunny glass room with a view. Free to use—just sign up. 

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Why didn’t this appear in my gratitude journal? 

Because I couldn’t fathom losing it.  

I have a good imagination. Over-active sometimes.  I write fiction, after all.  Yet, I never imagined that in March 2020 a world-wide pandemic would close my special writing space in Boston.

Often, we don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone. Trite but true.

I am confident that I’ll have this writing space back in the near future.

But you only get one high school graduation.

 

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Acknowledge your losses. Grieve them, no matter how small. Find comfort. Think of something to look forward to. Make a list of what you still have.

Rosmarie Heusser's Comments - Peace for the Soul

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And remember, it’s okay to miss the small stuff.  Manicures and malls. Coffee shops and handshakes. Smiles from strangers. 

So go ahead, tell me what you miss, big and small. 

No yardsticks here.

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A New Dawn: How do you start the day?

 

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Angel David, FreeImages

 

I wake up in the morning and, for a brief moment, in a haze of sleep, I forget that the world is on standstill.

Then reality dawns.

Jewish tradition has a prayer of gratitude to recite upon opening one’s eyes each morning. Parents sing this short prayer with their young children.

Each day you are a new creation.

How you start your day sets the tone for the rest of it.

Now that we aren’t rushing off to work or school or the gym, we might pause to thank the Universe that we’re still here.

My morning poetry habit sustains me.

David Whyte’s, What To Remember When Waking is one of my favorites and seems just right for today.

*. *. *

In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.

What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.

To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.

You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged.

Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting in the fertile sea?
In the trees beyond the house?
In the life you can imagine for yourself?
In the open and lovely white page on the writing desk?

~

 

Art Can Save Us

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Thank you fellow artists, writers, bloggers, educators, dancers, poets, philosophers, musicians, homeschoolers, trauma survivors, family and friends, near and far for your virtual hugs, kind words, and listening ears.

Thank you for finding creative ways of connection during this Corona pandemic. Thank you for sharing your art and spreading light and hope to others.

I’m still in survival mode, trying to get my bearings. Absorbing unwelcome changes. Surrendering to uncertainty.

In times of crisis, the great poets and writers can offer us solace and momentum.

I leave you the words of W.B. Yeats, from The Celtic Twilight(1893), a lyrical tribute to Irish folklore.

Please let me know how you are doing.

 

I have desired, like every artist, to create a little world out of the beautiful, pleasant, and significant things of this marred and clumsy world…

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Surviving Lost Love: “A Fig in Winter”

 

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Sometimes we love what we cannot have. It’s as simple as that. And yet, the longing continues, causing our suffering.

Doesn’t matter if the loved one is unavailable, doesn’t love us, or has passed on. The wish to resurrect the relationship someway, somehow can be overwhelming.

Unrequited love hurts and haunts.

Hope lifts you for a while but can hinder healing.

If you’ve been through a painful breakup, you might remain bitter, forgetting all the good parts of the story that proceeded its sad ending.

Amnesia blinds a broken heart.

A broken heart focuses on the end of the love story, whether through physical parting or death.

We scrutinize the last days and hours. The pain our loved one endured. What we failed to do or say.  Our hurtful words. Missed chances. Regret looms.

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This is a natural response to heartbreak, of course, maybe even necessary.

If we stay too long in those final days, we become blinded to what came before. Instead of reliving the moments of joy and connection, The End overpowers us.

In the face of loss, we remain broken if we do not open our hearts to new love experiences. This might mean dating again, forging new friendships, or finding a surrogate (not a replacement) for the lost love.

But how?

The key to moving on, we are told, is simple:

 

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Acceptance that we cannot change others.

Acceptance that someone may not love us they way we love them.

Acceptance that we cannot write the script for the Universe.

Acceptance that some things will never be as we wish.

Acceptance that all relationships will eventually end.

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Image by John Hain

The answer may be “simple”, but the journey is long and and bumpy. Maybe even a life’s work.

The poets and philosophers have pondered this arduous path for millennia. When my heart is aching for what I cannot have, I find solace in the writings of Greek stoic, Epictetus. (50-135 CE)

When you are delighted with anything, be delighted as with a thing which is not one of those which cannot be taken away, but as something of such a kind, as an earthen pot is, or a glass cup, that, when it has been broken, you may remember what it was and may not be troubledWhat you love is nothing of your own: it has been given to you for the present, not that it should not be taken from you, nor has it been given to you for all time, but as a fig is given to you or a bunch of grapes at the appointed season of the year. But if you wish for these things in winter, you are a fool. So if you wish for your son or friend when it is not allowed to you, you must know that you are wishing for a fig in winter

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Image by Andrea Petra Puporka