Space to Dream

In the midst of a cold and frozen week, a text from Heather sent me out of this world: “perseverance touched down on Mars ok.”

Over the next several minutes, I couldn’t have missed it if I wanted to. Images. News stories. Cartoons. And of course, posts up and down social media, all celebrating the same thing: The Perseverance rover had made a perfect landing on Mars and was already sharing its surroundings with one and all.

A big geeky smile spread across my face. For a moment, the impossibilities of the world didn’t seem to matter.

For just a moment, we were on higher ground.

My friends know that I’ve been a space geek for a long time. In grade school, I devoured books about the solar system and spacecraft, and then watched the moon eagerly with Dad through a Christmas-gift telescope. As I grew up, my heart was broken by Challenger, amazed by comet Hale-Bopp, and utterly overwhelmed by the images from Hubble. Even now, the Great Beyond has never lost its magic and wonder for me, from midday eclipses to fiery black holes.

And every now and then, I’m brought up short when someone says “So what?”

Mind you, it’s a seductive thing to say. After all, here we are, fenced in our homes, waiting for a vaccine to set us free – maybe. Here we are, in the depths of a bitter winter, watching much of Texas go dark in the world. It’s easy to be pulled “down to Earth,” easy to say “Don’t we have more important things to worry about?”

And yet.

For me, there’s always an “And yet.” It goes beyond the obvious, like the spin-off technologies from the space program that make life better on Earth. (Like say, those weather satellites that enable us to prepare for freezes like this.) It even goes beyond the notion that space and Earth are not an either-or, that attending to one does not automatically mean neglecting the other.

For me, it goes down to something deeper. More aspirational.

Moments like this prove that we’re capable of better.

They show that we can look beyond ourselves and our immediate needs to something grander.

They show that our perspective doesn’t have to be limited to our own doorstep.

They show that we can still ignite imagination, reach out with learning, and achieve wonders that once would have seemed impossible.

Most of all, moments like this show that we can hope. That we can dream. That we don’t have to be locked into a perpetual cycle of despair.

Looked at from that angle, the question isn’t “If we can land a vehicle on Mars, why can’t we keep Texas warm?” It instead becomes “If we can land a vehicle on Mars, what else could we possibly do?”

There are real and serious needs here on Earth. Despair won’t beat any of them. But if we face them with diligence, wonder, creativity and hope, we just may find a way forward.

We’re in a time now where even much of our science fiction – a language of dreams – is tied down in dystopic visions of grim survival. If we look out rather than burrow in, if we dare to give our dreams a chance, who knows what we might prove capable of?

Let’s set our hopes high. As high as the stars. And then labor to make them real.

After all, we’ve seen how that can put a world of possibilities in reach.

All it takes is a little Perseverance.

Fur Sure

As midlife changes go, this isn’t a bad one.

There’s no hot sports car sitting off the curb of Casa Rochat, attached to a huge bank loan and a running tab at the garage.

There’s no blonde or redhead on the side, no sudden resignation of my job to hike the Andes, no purple mohawk with an accompanying earring.

Instead, there’s just a bit more facial fungus  than there used to be.

Yep. The head shot on Rochat, Can You See is now inaccurate. Scott’s sporting a beard.

It’s not the first time I’ve flirted with the idea. The trouble is, there’s at least three stages to wearing a beard and Heather only likes two of them – smooth and smelling of shaving cream, or soft and fully-grown. The rough, scratchy, in-between stage that resembles my lawn during a Colorado summer isn’t comfortable for either of us, and that’s usually when I call retreat.

I made an exception once, back in Kansas, and let it keep growing. And by “keep growing,” I mean “Did nothing whatsoever to trim, thin or otherwise tame it.” All I was missing was a cardboard sign and a spot in the supermarket parking lot.

When people look at your face and ask if things are going all right at home, that’s not a good sign.

I knew it could be done better. I’d seen so on Sean Connery, on Dan Simmons, on my own Dad before he opted to return to a clear-cut. It just seemed like more of a hassle than I wanted.

But when I auditioned for and got a part in “Camelot,” the director had one question. “Do you think you can grow a beard by opening night?”

And thus the wildland restoration effort began anew.

As it happens, there’s a few advantages to going furry. You save a lot of money on razor blades. (You know, the ones they seem to alloy with platinum these days?) You pass the initial hurdle for any opening of “Fiddler on the Roof.” You get instant portable climate control, providing insulation in the winter and a handy sun screen in the summer.

Most of all, you create an instant conversation piece, once you’re far enough along for people to see that you didn’t just oversleep the alarm.

“Hey, what’s this?”

“You’re going to keep it, right?”

“I don’t usually like beards.” (Pause) “But this one suits you.”

Between this and some springtime weight loss, it’s even made me take a fresh look at myself. Usually, studying the mirror means a grudging acknowledgement of the Growing Thin Spot atop my head (which is a little like saying Jupiter has a reddish area somewhere in its middle). Now, it’s like meeting a new neighbor.

Besides, it’s quite the novelty to see hair advance instead of retreat.

Maybe this is the real reason – or at least a real reason – for the stereotypical midlife crisis. After so long of creating an identity, even the smallest change looks huge. It’s intriguing. Even exciting. And it makes you wonder what else can lie beneath the surface.

And really, that doesn’t have to be a crisis at all. Not when it can be an opportunity.

Learn an instrument? Why not?

Take the trip you’ve always put off? Go for it.

Start that book that’s been “someday” for 15 years? Sure.

I’ve known people who did all the above, or variations of it. Sometimes the experiment didn’t work so well. Sometimes it blossomed into something beautiful. In all cases, the self-portrait expanded, not so much changing who they were, but discovering more of it.

Funny thing about discovery. It’s addictive. There’s always more to find.

Just one thing. Be careful about discovering the Maserati.

Some situations, after all, are hairier than even Gillette can handle.