written by Jane Anderson
(The play "Defying Gravity", while fiction, is tied to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. The play's main characters are "Teacher" (the Christa McAuliffe character) and her daughter Elizabeth. (McAuliffe's real daughter was 6 years old when her mother died.) Other characters in the play include a waitress (Donna) in a bar frequented by NASA staff/astronauts and the famous Impressionist painter Claude Monet who watches all the events unfold (he died in 1926).)
Elizabeth: The day my mother actually left, a reporter asked me what I thought of my mother going into space. I didn't want to answer so I hid my face behind my grandmother's purse. My brother laughed at me so I hit him on the arm. My grandmother gave us Lifesavers to quiet us down. I told her I wanted cherry so she peeled the paper down until she found one for me. I put it in mypocket for later. Then my mother joined us and she let me hold her hand while she talked to the reporters.
I played with her wedding ring and I was very proud that I was one of the few people who was allowed to touch her hand. She showed the reporters some of the things she was taking up to space. She had a journal and in the journal was a bookmark that I made for her. I had drawn a rocket and stars and Saturn with the rings and I ironed it between two pieces of wax paper so it would be protected from the gamma rays. Then she showed the reporters something her class had given her. I was jealous and I wanted to give her something else. So I took out the Lifesaver. It was fuzzy from the lining of my pocket. While my mother and the reporters talked, I tried to make the Lifesaver presentable. I told myself I had to pick all the lint off the Lifesaver or my mother wouldn't come back. Finally my mother crouched down next to me. She was wearing her blue space suit. I touched the patches on her shoulders. She looked so beautiful. Suddenly I couldn't grasp that this was the woman who every morning sliced banana on my granola. My grandmother kept saying, say good-bye, honey, say good-bye to your mother. But all I could manage to do was hold out the Lifesaver. My mother took it and put it in her pocket and I knew everything would be all right.
Elizabeth: When I watched my mothers ship take off, I saw it go straight into the sky and disappear. When my grandmother told me that my mother went to heaven, I thought that was a part of outer space. I was excited because I thought she'd come back with all kinds of neat presents like a plastic harp or a pair of angel wings. I went to the mailbox everyday looking for a postcard from her that would have clouds or a 3D picture of God. I waited for her to call long distance. When I didn't hear from her I got very angry. I told my father I hated her for being away so long. He told me she had perished in the rocket. I told him that wasn't true, that she was alive. That she had left us and found a family she liked better. He asked me why did I think she was still alive. And I said, because I never saw her dead. These are the reasons I gave myself for why my mother didn't come back. One: I hit my brother on the arm. Two: I wouldn't talk to the reporters. Three: I didn't say thank you to my grandmother for the coloring book. Four: I wouldn't let my father hold me. And five: I didn't get all the lint off the Lifesaver.
(Monet walking across the stage, carrying a portable easel and his paint box. In back of him we see a projection of his painting of the Cathedral of Rouen.)
Monet: During an exhibition of my work, I watched a woman scrutinize one of my paintings. She had her face so close to the canvas, I was afraid that she would come away with paint fixed to the end of her nose. I heard her say to her companion, I'm sorry, but there are too many colors here. I have no idea what I'm looking at. I said to her, if you step back, Madame, perhaps you'll have a better view. She did as I suggested. Oh, is it a building? yes, it's the Cathedral of Rouen. I live in Rouen, she said, but this isn't what it looks like. This is the cathedral at dawn, I said, perhaps you were still in bed. She went to the next painting. And what is this? That is the cathedral at ten in the morning. I don't see it, she said. She went to the next. And what about this? That is the cathedral at noon. No, I still don't see it. I was about to tell the woman that she had about as much perception as a slug, when she stopped in front of a painting of the cathedral at dusk. She stared at it for a moment then said, yes, I recognize it now. You must be a very late sleeper, I said. And she looked at me with a terrible sadness in her eyes, No, Monsieur, this is the time of day when I go to light a candle for my husband. I lived long enough to see the invention of the airplane, but I never went up in one. At that time only the very brave and the very stupid were willing to fly. I once made arrangements to go up in a hot air balloon, but the fog kept us in, which was just as well because the pilot was drunk. I never saw the earth from anything higher than the bell tower of the Cathedral of Rouen. It was a wonderful view. I would have loved to have taken my paints up there, but the priest in charge was a narrow-minded wretch who believed that painters had no right to alter the perfection of God's world. What an idiot. But I always dreamed of seeing the earth from high above. Not just a bird's eye view, but God's view. And when I died, that was the last thing I had on my mind.
(Projection: the Rose Window of Chartes Cathedral)
Teacher: Even if you were very poor, you were free to walk into the cathedral and look up at something as magnificent as this. People came from hundreds of miles around on something called a pilgrimage. Can anyone tell me what it must have been like to be a pilgrim and to walk into a cathedral like Chartes? (a beat) Can anyone tell me what must have gone through your mind if you had never been outside your own village and you lived in a stone hut without any windows and you couldn't read or write and you spent your days pulling a plow through the mud and you slept in the same room with your pigs and you walked two hundred miles over primitive, rocky roads in a pair of sandals that started giving you blisters after the first day and you ran out of food and a band of robbers stole your last coin and no one would even offer you a ride, and finally, finally you arrived at the cathedral and you saw this? (She motions to the projection.) Anyone? (a beat) Jason? (a beat) Yes, many people were burned at the stake. (a beat) Yes, alive. Can we talk about that later? Heather? (The projection changes to a picture of a reliquary.) Most cathedrals were built around a patron saint. And some of these cathedrals contained something called a relic which was held in this, a reliquary. Can someone tell me what a relic is? (a beat) Patricia? (a beat) That's right, a relic is a piece of the body of someone believed to be a saint. It could be a piece of bone, or some hair or even a fingernail. Yes, it is gross, but back then people believed that these remnants were -- well, blessed. That if you touched them, you would be close to God. Patricia? (a beat) Well, my feeling is that most of the saints were ordinary people who happened to have been put in extraordinary situations. I think it's what people said about them later on that turned them into saints. But then again, they might have been, as you said, of God. Jason? (a beat) Yes, many of the saints suffered terrible deaths. Unfortunately, that is one of the things that qualified a person to be a saint. In any case -- can anyone think of a modern example of a relic? Anything that held some kind of magic for you? (a beat) No one? Well, remember when we took that trip down to the Air and Space Museum and we stood in line to touch the moon rock? Do you remember how exciting it was to touch something that had come from the surface of the moon? Mathew? (a beat) Well, I know we've been to the moon many times and brought back many rocks. But it's still a miracle that we did it all, don't you think? (long beat) No? Oh , well then how many of you are going to fly to the moon for your summer vacation? Anyone? No? how many of you know someone who's been to the moon -- your grandparents, a neighbor, a friend? No? And why do you think that is? (a beat) Because it's very, very hard to get there. Than kyou. All right then, one last question. If it was possible, if you were told that there was one free seat left on a rocket going to the moon, if you were told that you could have it, how many of you would grab the chance and go?
(The Teacher waits. She counts the hands as they go up, more and more.)
Teacher: Yes. Yes.
Donna: (turns to the audience) A reporter came in here, wanted to know, what was the last thing the astronauts said to me. What did they say to me? Yes, he said, exactly what did each of them say to you that last night when they left the bar? (a beat) Goodnight Donna, Goodnight, Night,. Goodnight Donna. Night, Donna. Goodnight. -- was that seven? Oh right, one more, Good night. He actually wrote all of that down. Then he wanted to know if I remembered anything else they might have said, it didn't have to be that particular night, any little tidbits. I said, Honey, a tidbit is something you feed a dog. He then amended himself, asked, did any of them confide in me. Yes they did, I said, but confide comes from confidential and it will remain that way. I could see the hair in his ears start to vibrate with excitement, ooh, this lady has tidbits! How am I gonna get them out of her? He decided to distract me, he looks over at the picture I have of my astronauts. What's that? he says. It was such a dumb-ass question. I didn't even bother to answer, just kept wiping the bar. You must have felt very close to all of them, he said. I just kept wiping. Then he leaned in towards me, real close, trying to get into some confidence with me, he says, do you think they knew? I just kept wiping and wiping the bar until he went away. (a beat) One of my astronauts noticed that I keep a bible behind the bar. And this individual sat with me late one night and we talked about the afterlife. This individual was experiencing a moment of fear. This individual had doubts. I told this individual what believe to be the truth: that the one thing we know about death, is that we all got to do it. And when and where we do it is left in the hands of God. And those who do it go on to a much higher place than those who are left behind. Those who do it are released of their bonds. Those who do it will finally know the secrets of the universe. And isn't that after all why some fool would want to put themselves on top of a rocket in the first place?
Kudos and much thanks go to Katherine for some of these monologues, it is very much appreciated.
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