Will the World Go Back to Normal?

You cannot step twice into the same river – Heraclitus 540-480 B.C.

Heraclitus says that we can’t ever step in the river twice; between footsteps the river changes – banks are washed away, new sandbars are formed, now more and later less water flows in from tributaries.  But probably more profound is that we are not the same.  Our bodies change, our minds change, we are transformed. Experience changes us; time changes us; we know more today than we did yesterday, or at least we hope so.

Anyway, you must define ‘normal’.

Epidemics of all sorts are ‘normal’.

I missed most of the polio scare of the 1940’s and 50’s, but I can remember my mother telling me one hot summer day that we were not going to go to the community swimming pool because there were ‘germs’.  Turns out that my parents and their generation were terrified of polio – and with good reason.  It was a long wait for a vaccine.

Going back, I had an uncle who died as an infant in 1935 because there were no antibiotics when he got sick.  Just a few years later, with penicillin and sulfa drugs he might have survived.

Further back, four of my great uncles/aunts died in a measles epidemic in 1907.  My grandfather just barely escaped that epidemic; fortunate for me that he lived and carried on the family.   My great-grandmother died in 1917 during the Spanish Flu epidemic, but we don’t know if that was the cause.  The family tree is full of large families, often 8, 10, 12 kids; seldom did all of them survive to adulthood.

Vivid in my memory when I was about 7, going to the High School cafeteria where everybody – kids and grownups alike – were given a sugar cube in a paper cup to take.  It was the Sabin vaccine against Poliomyelitis.

Not long afterwards, on a visit to the family doctor, the nurse scraped a spot on my shoulder – there is still a small round scar there:  smallpox vaccine.

As a child I had measles, mumps, chicken pox – now they tell me to get the shingles vaccine.  Oh my.

In 1976, all of us at college lined up in the basketball gym to get the swine flu vaccine.  It was supposed to be very deadly to young adults.

To see my grandchildren when they were little, I had to get more vaccinations to ensure I didn’t carry anything into their nursery. To travel overseas I had to get more vaccinations, written down somewhere.  That and don’t drink the water.

On a family vacation my daughter hooked me with her fishing line, and I had to get a tetanus booster. That was about 15 years ago, and they tell me its time to get another one, just because.

I’m not to think that my immunity from smallpox is still active after all these decades.

Modern science and modern medicine.  Wonder if I would have lived this long without it?

A friend of mine recently quoted me to me: ‘One day you realize there is more runway behind you than ahead and your perspective on everything changes.’

For the record, I hate when people to do that.  Quote me to me.

But there is that perspective.   My mind is filled with ghosts; people and places that no longer exist.  Last fall I returned to the town where I grew up.  The elementary school I attended has been razed and a beautiful new state of the art facility has been built in its place.  Very necessary, the school was not new when I attended.  But jarring to my psyche.

I passed by the place where we used to get burgers and fries, it’s not there anymore.   I drove by the houses of my teenage friends; they are no longer living there.

I’ve watched the facilities that were so much a part of my professional career get wiped away since the end of the shuttle program.  So many more places only exist in my memory.

Even worse, so many people are gone from us even though I can see and hear them in my memory like they are still here. On that trip home I visited my mother’s grave and it was interesting to walk down the row of monuments and find all her friends there along side her.  Small town.  Brings back memories of Mom hosting bridge parties, church women’s society meetings, book and civic clubs.  All her friends are with her now and forever.

In the last few days, I received word that a high school classmate of mine passed away.  He was not the first; classmates have succumbed to so many scourges:  accidents, AIDS, drugs, cancer.  Jarring to look at the class picture and count those who are gone.  Reminders that days are short and if there is work to be accomplished it should not be postponed.

With every day, the world has changed.  Some days for the better, but always changing.

So, to the question: will things go back to the way they were?

Of course not.

The better question is, what kind of world will we make?  This, too, will pass.

What will we do with our time?  Because we too will pass.

It’s just a question of perspective.

About waynehale

Wayne Hale is retired from NASA after 32 years. In his career he was the Space Shuttle Program Manager or Deputy for 5 years, a Space Shuttle Flight Director for 40 missions, and is currently a consultant and full time grandpa. He is available for speaking engagements through Special Aerospace Services.
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14 Responses to Will the World Go Back to Normal?

  1. David Loyd says:

    Thanks, Wayne, for bringing the corona chaos into perspective. We’ve been here before and will have different, but familiar challenges in the future. Your home town return reminded me of my recent visit to my hometown, Albuquerque. Same streets, same wonderful food, different people, buildings and vibe. Life goes on with us or without us.

  2. Adam Barbolet says:

    Thank you, Wayne.

  3. just a Country Boy from the Space Coast, reading your post is like looking in the mirror, just found out one of my best friends from Mel Hi and our CAP Cadet Squadron passed away 2 1/2 years ago in Argentina (he was a LRRP in the Nam, changed him forever), a 30 year Chamber of Commerce bud passed last month…where did the time go? time to get busy!!! thank you Wayne, always appreciate your insight…

    • John Pelchat says:

      Lloyd – We never met, or at least, I don’t recall meeting – at my age, memory can be a challenge. For whatever it may be worth, I am saddened by the news of your friend’s passing. A best friend adds much to our lives. John P. (Mel-Hi Bulldog, Class of ’74)

  4. Charles F Bolden Jr says:

    In a small way, Wayne, I find your blog uplifting. Your two questions at the end – …What kind of world will we make? & What will we do with our time? – are instructive in that they remind us that we have a say in our future and we can make a difference should we choose to do so. You and I and our colleagues in NASA have spent our lives trying to make the world a better place for all humanity – NASA’s vision while we were still around ended: “…reach for new heights to reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind.” The challenge of COVID-19 has revealed a lot about our character – good and bad – and we now have an opportunity to correct the bad and capitalize on the good for the benefit of humankind.

    Thanks for your always thoughtful monologue and for challenging us to do better! Take Care and stay safe and healthy! – Charlie B.

  5. Larry Clark says:

    Hello Wayne. A poignant post today and spot on. Nope it will not be the same. I still read (and thoroughly enjoy) your posts. And I always will. When I read them I look fondly back on my irreplaceable career on the Space Shuttle Program. Most especially the time we both stood there at Hangar AF looking at the SRB Frustum BSM drain ports and the white streak in the soot below each of them. Wondering what could cause that. We never did figure it out. I to am glancing at the runway behind me and the altitude above me. As such I have finally decided to succumb to my children’s consistent request to write my memoirs for them. That in itself has brought back oh so many wonderful memories but it has also served to heighten my awareness of the runway distance markers streaming by. So I better get it done!
    All the best, stay healthy and enjoy the memories of a fantastic career as much as I enjoy reading them and your perspectives.

  6. Steve Tripodi says:

    Very enjoyable post. I too have memories of the sugar cubes in a large room (maybe a school caf, not sure). Been back to my home town many times- many changes but the places were basically the same. At least to the minds eye if an 28 year old as I once was…

  7. Barnes, Enrique I. (KSC-SAB00) says:

    Do with the time ? Mr. Hale in my case I have survived 4 Combat deployments., 2 divorces, a close encounter with a knife and a couple of rounds shoot at the helicopter, also a couple of biker bar fights, lately Stage IV small lung cell cancer, 2 motorcycle accidents and a lot of broken bones and surgeries.
    My advice will be, Believe in our Lord Jesus, smile and treat other humans as you would like to be treated, because we do not know when will be our turn through that Gate and yes we all have an expiration date.
    Stay safe.
    Take care my friend

    Enrique I. Barnes
    NASA QAS (SA-B22)
    Safety and Mission Assurance
    Kennedy Space Center, FL.32899
    Ph.# 321 861 7090
    Aviation Character is the triumph of humility over self-confidence and arrogance.

  8. Norbon Clay Jones says:


  9. rangerdon says:

    Yes, indeed, poignant. And encouraging. It is good to know that others are going through such events. We’ve lived through an exceptional time (I even remember the Salk needles!), and were lucky (or blessed) to do so. What we have seen! Now the runway ahead shortens, others have left us. Your post speaks eloquently to that. Thanks.

    Question: Ok to share this?

    Don Scott, NASA-AESP retired.

  10. James A Carleton says:

    Said by others first, “The human spirit is to explore.” In October 1957, my father took me into our back yard to see Sputnik. Since then all I wanted to do was to launch rockets. Lucky for me the Space Shuttle gave me the opportunity. Your post made me reflect on the first flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia on April 12, 1981. Much has changed since then. I remember every launch, especially the two most memorable. We continued and moved forward until the last flight of Atlantis on July 8, 2011. Many of us grew up on shuttle and wondered what would happen after the program ended. For me, after supporting every Space Shuttle launch including the SLC-6 effort, I no longer get up at 4:30 in the morning. But guess what, there is a new generation of engineers with new ideas and technologies. After nine years, we will be sending American astronauts back into space on an American space craft. When it launches from KSC’s Launch Pad 39A like 63 years ago, I will go out to my back yard and watch the launch. The new normal.

  11. Doug MacGregor says:

    I followed you all during the Shuttle era after following the US Space Program during the 60s and always marvelled at your ability to inspire.
    I just completed a high school reunion (class of ’69) using Zoom and one of the revelations was that 13 of our classmates were no longer with us.
    Thankfully my grade school is still standing but my high school (Lower Canada College) in Montreal has been renovated so extensively that my classmates tell me it’s unrecognizable inside. Sad really but time marches on.
    Keep up your writing Mr. Hale. I never tire of reading it.
    Stay safe.
    Doug MacGregor
    Ottawa, Canada

  12. P. Savio says:

    “With every day, the world has changed. Some days for the better, but always changing.
    So, to the question: will things go back to the way they were?”

    In a small way we might find out on May 27th 2020 4:32 p.m. EDT…..

  13. Dave H. says:

    So…how do you feel?

    You’re a year older than I, but I’ve lived in Pittsburgh for most of my life. Yet, the perspective is much the same…driving around town has become an exercise in “used to be”. I suspect that this is a product of us having lived long enough to become our parents. When CBS would show “Wizard of Oz” every Thanksgiving my mother would tell us which of the characters had since passed on.

    Our generation does that with the Blues Brothers. Scary, isn’t it?

    James Earl Jones pretty much summed it up in “Field of Dreams”, but that’s not my point.

    How did you feel when you watched the launch on Saturday? Old, irrelevant, “antique”? When my wife asked me that question my first thought was how I feel when I watch the rocket launch at the end of “The Martian”. There comes a point in time when, after we’ve done our part, we watch as younger hands take the wheel. Assuming that they come safely home, Dragon will take its place alongside Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Shuttle. One day, the next step will relegate Crew Dragon to the Smithsonian, and our grandchildren will travel to Udvar-Hazy to see it along with other artifacts of space. Just wait until they figure out the relationship between gravity and light and our great-grandchildren will marvel at those brave people who rode controlled explosions into space.

    Myself, I’m retiring in a few months. I hope that I’ve passed along enough of my knowledge to my younger replacements. My company has been paying me to stay home since March 30 and so I’ve gotten a preview of what retirement will look like. My boss wanted to see if the “kids” had the “right stuff” to maintain and operate a 50 year old coal-burning power plant. So far it seems that they have it.

    This is as it should be.

    When it was our time to take over for our parents they closed all of the manufacturing that made Pittsburgh run. We never got the chance. We had to improvise, adapt, and overcome. My elementary school, where they herded us into the cafeteria to watch Mercury and Gemini launches, is still there, but they bulldozed the junior and senior high schools some years ago.

    Time stands still for no one.

    All the best,

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