Recently, our pediatrician was telling my science-obsessed kid that someday in the not so distant future, NASA will be selecting the team of young adults who will travel to Mars. According to him, the team of astronauts will be gone from Earth for 17 years. Of course, my child wants nothing more than to be a part of the Mars team.
It would be an extraordinary life to be an astronaut, especially one on such a magnificent and momentous mission. For all time, history books will memorialize those men and women as heroes who accomplished one of the greatest feats ever known to humankind. Their faces would be etched into the memories of young astronaut-hopefuls all around the world for generations, young and old alike.
In those few moments, as my son’s doctor described the mission to Mars that will be the most dangerous, most demanding, most lengthy (17 YEARS?!) trip into space ever attempted, my son’s eyes glittered with excitement at the possibilities, and I wished for only one thing—for my son to have an ordinary life.
Scott Kelly (the astronaut my son and I recently saw speak about his 522-day stay on the International Space Station) may have a wonderful and amazing life, but SO DO I! No one will be taking my picture for the cover of Time magazine, asking me to write a memoir, or interviewing me for 20/20. My life may seem downright boring to my children who mostly see me cooking, doing dishes, driving carpool, and helping them with their schoolwork. That’s okay. It is not only magnificent and momentous events that make life amazing. A wonderful life is made of so much ordinary.
I could wish for more money, a more prestigious job, a bigger house, more extravagant vacations, better art on my walls, but at what cost? What I do have—time to spend with my children, the opportunity to build relationships, work that I enjoy, dinners with my family, time to read a book occasionally—are all very ordinary things that bring me extraordinary joy. I would not trade a trip to the stars for any one of those things.
Dear Child, may you be overlooked for the position of astronaut and instead get the job of a brilliant scientist who stays on the ground. May you be left behind and instead of spending the prime years of your life on a cold, distant planet, may you spend those years here on Earth, find an adoring spouse, and have children. May you take your dog on walks through your neighborhood instead of taking walks in space. May you spend your evenings in the company of those you love, sipping a beer and watching Jeopardy on the TV instead appearing on the TV news.
Remember, sweet boy, to follow your dreams. But before you do, pay careful attention to what you are really dreaming of. Fame, fortune, excitement, and adventure are worthy pursuits, but so are family, love, tradition, peace, calm, and security. Whatever you dream of, make sure that you are building a life you will love and not just racing toward a goal. Dream of wonderful things, not only impressive things, and chase them with your whole heart.