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the skunks of los feliz
6.05.2004
 
President Reagan has mercifully gone to his greater reward, whatever that is for him. No matter what I thought of him as a politician, Alzheimer's is a terrible way to go. To lose your mind and drift on in a twilight world, detached from everyone and everything you loved, robbed even of your personality, is a dreadful fate.
Reagan was President in my formative years, an era when nuclear war, not terrorist attacks, was our chief threat. I remember John Hinckley, Iran-Contra, trickle-down economics, yuppies, and Iran-Contra. I was in opposition to most of his policies, an opposition that time has not softened.
Today, though, I will remember him for a speech he gave in January 1986.
I was in high school in Florida at the time, skipping school, drinking Busch beer and listening to the Ramones with my friends. We stumbled out onto the lawn to watch the space shuttle takeoff, something that had become almost routine to us. What we got was a moment of history.
I missed the actual moment of the explosion. The first inkling we had that something had gone wrong came when the solid rocket boosters flung themselves away from the body of the spacecraft, trailing curls of smoke as they spun wildly out of control. I remember thinking that I'd never seen that, it had definitely never done that.
A news break informed us that the Challenger had exploded on takeoff. It was shocking to all Americans, but especially, I think, to Floridians. The space shuttle was so central to how we viewed ourself. The space program was integral to our indentity. We were the Space Coast. Hell, my grandfather worked at the cape as a firmean for a time. The astronauts were part of our family, so familiar to us we had begun to take them granted.
We were devastated.
And Reagan, the hardened cold-warrior, gave a beautiful speech, a speech that even now, almost twenty years later, touches me. It perfectly encapsulates the feelings of a people after a shocking, demoralizing tragedy, encapsulates and transforms, channeling grief into resolve and pride.
On that day, Reagan was our voice, and I thank him for it. I hope he has found some measure of peace in death. As the people back home say, "he has laid down his Earthly burdens, and crossed the River Jordan". Whether there is something on the other side or not, his suffering is ended at last.
 
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