Dear Chris, (Commander, Rockstar, Father, Astronaut, Writer, Pilot, Garbage-Picker-Upper…)
I just finished reading your book. I cried several times as I read, but cried the most whilst reading the acknowledgments. I think it was because I’d made it to the end of my reading mission (if you will), and I didn’t want it to be over, and because, as a writer, I completely understand the importance and sincerity of words that live and breathe in acknowledgements.
My husband bought me your book for Christmas but I’d heard so many of your interviews on the radio and watched you in so many television interviews, I couldn’t wait for December 25 to come. I went into the closet in our bedroom where we ‘hide’ our gifts and dug out your book. I cried when I read the first sentence: The windows of a spaceship casually frame miracles. My husband looked at me and laughed lovingly, “Weeping already, baby?” I folded my lips into eachother trying to hide my quivering chin – “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” I lied. And so it went. Me carrying your ‘life in pages’ around in my bag, reading at every free moment (we have two kids, aged 7 and 5 – very busy, intelligent, demandingly loving human beings) I had, typically in 10-15 minute increments. I even brought you on our family holiday trip to Michigan (we live in Windsor!) and read on the way there, in the hotel, and on the way back.
Last night, with but twenty pages left to read, I gathered my family on my bed and together we watched ‘Space Oddity’…guess what? I cried! Who knew? Looking at you, around and behind you at the Soyuz and beyond into the ‘miracles’ that are forever re-inventing themselves in space, I felt a deep connection to you and your words. And that’s a big deal for a writer. Please add ‘writer’ to your list of achievements, okay? For it’s one thing to have a spectacular life story (check), and one thing to have the balls to share it (check), and a whole other thing to translate this story from your heart and mind and body onto a page with words (check). Mere words, as I’m sure they feel sometimes when you were describing what it felt and looked like to ‘be’ in space and on earth, for that matter.
My family and I met you before your last space trip when you visited Windsor for an air show. The weather wasn’t great so not many planes were able to hit the sky. It was hot and heavy humid but you were kind and gentle and stopped to talked to whomever wanted to chat. Our kids were much younger and mostly interested in your blue suit (I’m pretty sure that’s what you wore) and the patches on it…and how loud the next plane would be (at one point, we all literally hit the deck when a jet zoomed over us – it was both funny and terrifying. My daughter said her insides felt shaky. Mine did too!). Needless to say, I never thought I’d get the opportunity to meet you and read a book you wrote about your incredible life.
As a writer, I’ll admit, I was judging your ability to share in words – and you did a bang up job. Where bang up means ‘awesome’ like a safe Soyuz landing. You gotta take the bangs to succeed, right? And as a parent, I was waiting to read how it was for you to have the career you had (have) and also be a ‘dad’ and a ‘husband’. Of course you missed your children and Helene – both on and off the earth – but I wanted you to say it, and you did. And your distinction about loneliness being a state of mind is truly precise. It seems as though you have learned and chosen to be a human of great connection, and this too has translated to the page.
I’m glad you are honest and vulnerable – your bravery goes without saying, for it takes a brave human to take on the role of astronaut or fighter pilot or father or husband – and you’ve lived (are living) them all. And in Helene, you’ve got a soulmate and a life partner who is the epitome of ‘open communication’ and ‘compromise’ and ‘support’, even though it’s extremely difficult a lot of the times. How great is it though, to have a ‘love’ like this in your life? To have it to come home to time and time again? I know how great it is because I’ve got it too!
Despite your lack of presence in the flesh during parts of your children’s lives, it seems very much as though your ‘essence’ – your determination, your bravery, your ability to learn – is a deep part of who your children are, and that’s gotta feel good. So much of the time I worry about what my actions/words/’essence’ is teaching my children, and I’m with them everyday. It’s hard no matter what the circumstances are, I think. Kids are like planets you create, you know? They have their own systems, yet need to be cultivated to be the best they can be.
And so, what now? I move onto another book. I learn about another human’s extraordinary life story. Sure, but there’s a new star in my story sky, and it’s got your name on it. And it’s a bright one, by golly.
I hope you keep writing. It’s a good way for you to communicate. (And it seems as though you’ve got a great team at Random House helping you along! Random House…now there’s a ship I’d like to fly on!) Or maybe you’ll write in a journal or write letters or write in the night sky when you’re staring up at in and remembering…
Thank you for sharing and teaching and inspiring.