Losing our Heroes

Heroes Pass their Torches

The deaths of Dr. Vera Rubin on Christmas Day and that of Carrie Fisher on Dec. 27th, both heroes in different walks of life, gave me pause to think about the people we each look up to in our lives. Those two women couldn’t be more different in their career paths, yet they shared a vision of getting ahead. They stuck their jobs and made huge contributions throughout their very active lives.

As a science writer specializing in astronomy and space activity, I looked up to both of them in different ways.  Each supplied inspiration for the work they did and the attitudes they held in life. They both did good things. These ladies were both human and never acted larger than life.  I’m sure they had their foibles, as we all do. Ms. Fisher’s were very public, given the nature of her work.  But, each of these woman stood up and did what had to be done.  And, both are being remembered fondly by many people.

A colleague of mine commented to me privately that reaching an age where one’s heroes and admirees are dying is a tough time.  Of course, people pass on all the time. However, for those of us who grew up piqued by astronomy and space travel and being inspired by space movies as well, it’s rare to have two people who were connected (even tenuously) by these realms go in such short order.  Sure, not every astronomer admired both. But, many astronomers I know were inspired by Star Wars and Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey and other movies in the realm where Carrie Fisher first grew famous.

Strong Women

Strength characterized both women. Despite adversity, they kept on going. They had positive goals. They achieved things that were greater than themselves. Neither one did it at the cost of others; in fact, they both sought to help others going through the same things they did. That’s a charitable donation to society that can’t even begin to have a price tag. And, it’s something to be admired in an age when self-aggrandizing jerks grab the attention of the world. Such strength moves societies and realms of study forward, not backwards.

So, as the year winds down, find or think about someone to admire in your profession (or even outside of it). I would bet that they’d be people who have achieved monumental things by working hard at them. Who you admire says a lot about you and your goals. Make it good, whoever you admire. The jerks in the world will always have sycophants who suck up to them. Truly good people who accomplish good things despite the obstacles that get in their way, will have admirers who want to continue good in the world. Stay strong. Do good works. And, keep looking up!


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