March, 20, 2011 — Recently I’ve had the privilege of shepherding a new book to the public. Its title is ”Love Is Strong As Death: Our Walk through the Valley of Its Shadow” (Amazon.com; ISBN-10: 143272911X.)
Its author, Rick Fleeter, is, quite literally, a rocket scientist. In 1988 he founded AeroAstro, a small satellite and space transportation company that he ran for twenty-one years.Today he divides his time as a professor of engineering at Brown University and La Sapienza /University of Rome. He is also a consultant to the Italian Space Agency.
Public glamour, however, belies private tragedy.
Nancy, Rick’s wife, battled cancer for 15 of the 25 years they were together. Much of the time her illness was manageable, and even occasionally, almost ignorable, but it returned with a vengeance, and she died in April of 2008.
Rick began writing his fourth book, Love Is Strong, with Nancy, and continued work on it at her bedside, then alone after her death. For several reasons, the book is a stunning exploration of the nature of grief, and I’d like to focus on one aspect of that here.
Engineering. Logic. These are top skills, yet what use are they in the face of death? How does a highly trained mind, loaded with inherited tendencies toward science and the acquired habits that reinforce them, deal with loss?
Logic won’t wrap around death, to explain it or make it right. Yet, as we try to deal with loss, every one of us grasps at what we have at hand, whether it’s art, tears, logic, friends, spirituality, or things known only to us.
So, how does a rocket scientist deal with loss and the grief it brings? The same personality, the same inquisitive mind, and the same energy hurled itself first toward rocket science, then into life, and finally, at death. Although a novice to grief, Rick Fleeter is not a novice writer, nor is he a “perfect” writer. If you want to see the big writing picture, here’s a suggestion: First, glance through a few pages of Rick’s previous books: The Logic of Microspace and Travels of a Thermodynamicist.
Then, if you want to see an engineer deal with the incredible irrationality that grief can bring to any of us, read Love Is Strong as Death.
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