Hang in There – Michael J. Massimino’s story, “A View of the Earth”

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Recommended Reading, Watching, and Listening

Seek the lofty by reading, hearing and seeing great work at some moment every day.  ― Thornton Wilder

I read, listen to, and watch a significant number of media that in some way are about how to live well, how to grapple with life challenges, people’s passions, or how amazing the world and universe (universes?) really are.  It’s one way I keep learning and evolving, hold onto hope and remember the good in humanity (despite the day’s headlines), and reignite wonder.  Also, I’m just a complete sucker for a great story.  And when I find something great, I want to share it. 

These “recommended media” blog-posts are one way of sharing.  In each, I’ll tell you a little bit about the book, article, radio-show, etc. and what about it struck me.  But of course, my musings can never replace the full production.  “Key take-aways” can never have the emotional impact of the real thing.  My hope is that the notes will inspire you to take a look at whatever it is and find what is most meaningful, useful, touching, and funny to you. 

Hearing and reading about the return of astronaut Scott Kelly after 340 days in space reminded me of The Moth story “A View of the Earth” by astronaut Michael J. Massimino.  I haven’t followed Mr. Kelly’s Instagram or Twitter posts, so the connection may be tenuous, but Mr. Massimino’s story is a good one.

Like many favorite stories, this one made me laugh and cry in the good way (people showing up for each other) and provided good life reminders.  I’ve noted a few of the “life lessons” below, but Mr. Massimino is a wonderful story-teller and presents them much more entertainingly than this list.  (Actually, I don’t think he’s trying to tell a parable; he’s sharing an experience and telling a good story about repairing the Hubble Space Telescope—which required dealing with more than 117 screws.  I’m playing the part of the English/Literature teacher—finding themes and lessons—but hopefully not ruining the story.)  So go ahead, take a few minutes to listen to the story and go on a fun, touching journey with an astronaut.  I promise it’s worth the 18 minutes.

  • Try, try, try again.  Massimino had to apply to NASA four times over a few years before he was accepted.  As someone who has hit the wall more than once, I always appreciate hearing about others who didn’t soar over every wall on their first attempt.  (I’ve also come to believe a bit of failing is a good thing, in that it can help us cultivate humility, gratitude, resilience, and compassion.  Or you can choose bitterness and resentment, but I don’t recommend that path.  Humility, gratitude, etc. are much more useful, and they feel better.)
  • Despite great planning—years of planning by brilliant people—things may go wrong.  But even when things go wrong early and the first several attempted fixes don’t work, you can still succeed, especially when you’re part of an awesome team, everyone deeply invested in finding a way forward.  Go control center and Goddard Space Flight Center (and all the other behind-the-scenes support people whose names we don’t know)!
  • However, I hope you skip the self-flagellation, especially if you’re doing something hard that is rarely done, has never before been done, or is rarely done in the way or circumstances you’re facing.  I’m amazed by Mr. Massimino’s response—taking total responsibility for the problem.  Amazed and also sympathetic, as I am a “recovering” champ at total self-blame (I’m pretty sure it often comes along with perfectionism).  I wonder how many other NASA folks felt responsible—that they should have predicted and prepared for this potential problem?  It’s so very easy for some of us to beat ourselves up.  But Massimino’s self-recrimination didn’t create the solution.
  • Do, do, do again.  Often, if we do something that scares us again and again, eventually it stops being scary and starts being fun.  What matters enough to you that you’re willing to climb over the hump (mountain) of fear?
  • When you succeed, when you reach a major milestone or overcome big challenges and obstacles, don’t immediately dive right into the next task.  STOP.  Breathe deep, relax a bit, enjoy the sunshine and achievement, and take a look around at the larger world.  You might be amazed by what you see.
  • You are never alone as you may feel in a given moment.  More people care about you and are rooting for you than you realize, even during times as dark and cold as night time in space.  (This is the part that made me cry.  I’m not including the final sentences of the story, though tempted to, because you really should hear them in the context of the whole story.)
  • But I will make this suggestion: If someone (or someones) has helped you through a time as dark as a night in space, do they know it?  How about sending them a thank you note for helping you to keep your head above water?

RESOURCES

If you prefer to read rather than listen to the story, The Moth book collects some of the best stories from the first years of The Moth story-slams, including “A View of the Earth.”  I recommend the whole book.

Suicide, and Hope for Our Future Selves,” an “On Being” discussion with Jenifer Michael Hecht.  Dr. Hecht’s chief argument against suicide focuses on community and the interconnections amongst us all; as Ms. Tippet says, “The discussion you want to have is not so much against suicide, but for staying alive for each other.”  It is another reminder that we are not as alone, uncared for, insignificant, meaningless, or unworthy as we believe in our darkest moments:

  • [Y]our staying alive means so much more than you really know, or that anyone is aware of at this moment. But we’re in it together in this profound way, and you can take some strength from that. . . . And it’s funny, because my two arguments, that you owe it to other people and that you owe it to your future self, are both about looking at what the individual means. Because when you look at a person within a group, and all the trends we follow, the clothes, the car, the not-car, all these trends that we follow, you realize the extent to which we’re enmeshed. And when you look at yourself and realize that you have fallen in and out of love with the same person, you have fought with friends thinking you’ll never speak to them again, and then you love them again . . .  we have different moods that profoundly change our outlook, and it’s not right to let your worst one murder all the others.
  • “None of us can truly know what we mean to other people, and none of us can know what our future self will experience.”
  • [After a suicide] We’re all suddenly reaching out to each other to say, “Really? Did this really happen?” And “I miss this person,” and “I didn’t even know that I was so connected to them.” And that’s a good place to start a conversation. Not the negative side. Not to say, “Don’t kill yourself ‘cause it would kill other people,” but to say, “Look how involved we all are just under the surface, and let’s try to help each other.”

Thanks to “On Being” for providing a transcript of the show.  As usual, I recommend listening to the entire program, right to the final poem (which goes straight to my heart each time I read or hear it).

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Alexandra Marchosky
Alexandra Marchosky
I coach individuals and organizations to do and be better by more fully living their values.
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