The surly bonds of earth: the Challenger explosion

For South Florida it was an astoundingly cold day: low to mid thirties. The morning the Challenger exploded coincided with the José Martí Parade, an annual ritual during which Miami private schools commemorated the Cuban journalist-poet-patriot by wearing leotards too tight to fit puberty-swollen bodies and instruments too adult to handle. I don’t remember if the cold or the explosion caused the cancellation of the parade; a few days later, however, we and the other schools marched in silence, kept from playing to honor the dead men and one woman on board the Challenger. I played the xylophone — even by sixth grade standards not well.

I watched Ronald Reagan’s eulogy to the astronauts with my great grandmother, his words dubbed in Spanish. She wiped a tear. Although I’ve written thousands of words dismissing his administration’s rule by abstention, indifference, and abstract cruelty, I nevertheless remember that eulogy, written by Peggy Noonan, as his finest public moment, delivered with all the polish and unforced pathos of a pro; when he delivers the famous final line, cribbed from a poem, about the crew slipping “the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God,” Reagan goes hollow for a second; he’s nothing but the line. The presidency was for Ronald Reagan a performance, and the speech was his best script.

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