You don’t know me, and I don’t know you either—at least, not in the way that matters. We don’t walk in the same circles. You are sixty-eight; I am seventeen. You are an astronaut and a teacher; I am a fast-food worker and a student. You have been to the stars; I simply dream of them. Somehow, though, I feel connected to you.
Mrs. Morgan, I am learning Spanish. In class, we learned that there are two Spanish translations of the English infinitive verb to know: saber and conocer. Saber is used to describe one’s knowledge of facts and information, perhaps history or the number of stars in the known universe or the information on an astronaut’s Wikipedia page. Conocer is used when one is familiar with something—perhaps a place, or a person. It’s what you’d say about your hometown, or a place you often vacation, or your mother, or your ex-boyfriend.
Regardless of my knowledge of information about you, I do not know you in the way conocer implies. I would like to know you the way you know the stars: in a conocer kind of way.
If I were to meet you, Mrs. Morgan, I would have so many questions for you. But because I know it would be a quick meeting, not a conocer kind of meeting—perhaps on the streets of the city we both live in—I would try to limit myself to a single question.
Mrs. Morgan, here is my question: What are the stars like?
When I was a little girl, I dreamed (as many little girls do) of knowing the stars in a conocer kind of way. To some extent, I still do, though now I find myself wanting to become a teacher rather than an astronaut. Me knowing the stars in a conocer kind of way—that is implausible. Of course it is. But I have always loved the stars, and I will never stop loving them.
What are they like? What is it like to be so drastically isolated, yet surrounded by such vast and wonderful beauty? Your Wikipedia page explains the sense of pride you felt, looking down at Earth and recognizing this beautiful endeavor that the human race has embarked upon. I wonder how that realization would feel. I cannot imagine it would be anything short of breathtaking.
I know the stars the way I know you: in a saber sort of way.
I wish I knew the stars the way I wish I knew you: in a conocer kind of way.
And yet, Mrs. Morgan, I feel connected to you, somewhere between saber and conocer. I am not familiar with you the way I am familiar with my friends, but I am familiar with you the way I am familiar with the strangers on the street. Perhaps you have even been one of the strangers on the street. Boise isn’t big—it’s plausible.
Perhaps this connection comes from the physical closeness we have, or the way you are the kind of adult I would like to be. Perhaps it’s not there at all. I’m not sure.
Regardless, Mrs. Morgan, thank you. Thank you for knowing the stars in a conocer kind of way. Thank you for writing about them, for teaching about them; you are the type of adult I would like to be. Thank you. We do not walk in the same circles, and I do not know you in a conocer kind of way, but you have made a difference in my life.
Barbara Morgan is an astronaut and teacher from my state. She was the backup for teacher Christa McAuliffe, who was killed along with the rest of the Challenger crew on 28 January 1986. Even after witnessing the death of her friend and colleague, Morgan returned to NASA, and flew on the spaceflight mission STS-118 (an assembly mission for the ISS). Her grit astounds me. In 2008, Morgan retired from NASA and took up a position at Boise State Universtiy.