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Monday, August 25, 2014

A Sense of Wonder and Delight


I’m a person who loves to read (probably part of the reason I have been writing books…there are several others well on the road to publication, topically unrelated to divorce, by the way).  I also like flea markets and antique stores.  At a relatively recent stop at such a store, I ran across a book from 1970 that is a step by step recounting of the Apollo 11 moonlanding of 1969, including some of the processes it took to get to that point.  The book is called First on the Moon written by several individuals in conjunction with the Apollo 11 crew.  As a really old person, I actually remember watching that moon landing on television.  As a matter of fact, I remember watching most of the launches of the Gemini and Apollo mission, too.  I remember being thrilled at the concept of space exploration and even considered pursuing a career in the field myself.  But then, what child didn’t back then?

Reading the book, I have relived some of those happy memories, and once again been touched by the wonder of what was accomplished.  I have learned some things I didn’t know, such as that the entire time Mike Collins was circling the moon by himself, nobody knew exactly where it was in the Sea of Tranquility that the Eagle had landed…so every pass he was given an assigned area to search for it.  (According to the records provided in the book, they didn’t finally confirm the location until the return flight had actually entered the pull of earth’s gravity!)  And the author, especially because of the fact that his writing was so close to the time of the landing, conveys well the absolute wonder and idealism involved in the entire project.  He projects the enthusiasm and awe we all felt at the mind staggering achievement, and people around the globe shared in it.  It was with wonder we saw Armstrong and Collins step out onto the lunar surface for the very first time.  Majestic.  Stupendous.  AWESOME…not just as a fad word, but truly AWESOME!  Or, in the vocabulary of the day, Supercalifragi…..no, skip that.  There was actually no words that adequately described the pride, the feelings, the wonder of that time.  And part of me wished that I could have been in Florida for one of the launches at some point…even into the era of the space shuttles.  I did get to visit Cape Canaveral in recent years, and saw the Saturn engines up close and personal, and I did work at a lab that did studies on lunar rocks (have an electron-microscope picture of one of them, in fact).  But still…I never got to be there when it was all happening.

Then I thought about the fact that I actually watched only a few of the space shuttle launches or landings.  I know the names of very few of the later astronauts, but most of the names of the early ones.  And I thought about the wonderful portrayals in the movie “Apollo 13,” and the scene where Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell is making a space talk presentation for the television audience, even though unbeknownst to him, the talk was not being aired on television, because the public was no longer interested in watching such things.  Until, of course, disaster struck and the mission was jeapordized.  (Yes, I remember that, too.)

Okay, so what’s the point, right?  The point is, reading this book, I have been struck again by how incredible the entire space program is.  And how sad it is that we take it so for granted.  But, as the book points out, before the Wright brothers, or even right afterwards, nobody would dreamed that a flying machine would ever be able to cross an ocean, or carry more than one passenger, or be so affordable that ordinary people would fly in them on a regular basis!  Those flights were marvelous moments, too.  The old saying is that familiarity breeds contempt.  I don’t know if contempt is the best word or not, but it familiarity certainly causes us to lose our sense of wonder and awe. 

I remember one of the first times I took my oldest child to watch an Independence Day fireworks show, and the wonder in her eyes as the colorful explosions lit up the night sky.  I remember my exhausted children suddenly coming to life when they heard the noise and saw the lights of the late night Electric Parade at Disneyland.  I have many such memories, because somehow, having young children around helps us to see things fresh as they see them for the first time.  In some ways, it would be a great thing if we could always see things as through the eyes of a child, so as to preserve the sense of awe and wonder at this incredible thing we call life, and the amazing universe we inhabit.

And, sadly, many of us lose the sense of wonder we first had when we realized and experienced God’s love for us and the power of the forgiveness we know when we open our hearts to Christ.  We get used to the idea that if we pray, God really does listen and care.  We take for granted that there are words for us from God, written down in a collection of books called the Bible.  We glibly say the name of God, not remembering the awesome and incredible nature of the being we refer to when we utter that word.  Maybe that is part of why Jesus said we need to come to him like little children.  Maybe that is what Paul desired us to gain when his prayer is that we can know the height and breadth and length and depth of the love of God, or that we could experience peace that passes understanding. 

Landing on the moon, and all the things that led up to it were incredible.  The man’s book even predicted that something like the space station and the Hubble telescope would be built that would expand our knowledge exponentially.  But those things, incredible as they be, are miniscule in the presence of a God worthy of the adjective, “Awesome.”  

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