We had to see it happen. The landing of Apollo 11 on the moon. We had been camping in Wisconsin in our little 9 x 9 tent. It was just June and myself plus Kanti, age 2 ½. We were on our way through Michigan's Upper Peninsula. We were campers, but when we knew the moon landing was going to occur July 20, we rented a motel room and prepared to watch this historic event on a small black and white TV.
We were joined by millions of others across our country and around the world straining our eyes to get a glimpse of something that was nearly impossible. Little did we know (all of us except the engineers sweating it out at NASA’s Mission Control) how fragile was the chain of precise events that had to occur for this flight to be successful. We had only the faintest idea of how difficult this scientific exploration actually was. Each calculation, each rocket, each thruster, and their fuel supply had to work just right. It was an incredible gamble.
A sense of unity and focus was shared by virtually millions of people in the United States and many other parts of the world. President Kennedy had cast a vision, proclaimed a goal, and this goal was being met. It was one of those rare occasions when we all took part in a dream. I’m sure there were critics who thought the money could be better spent for other purposes. But as the enormous investment of resources and talent was coming to its climactic goal, we were all spellbound. We listened to the voices from Mission Control calling out mysterious numbers and orders. We listened as subdued voice-over comments came from TV reporters to help us interpret the mysteries of space travel, a gigantic event streaming through those black and white TV sets.
As the event unfolded, the unity was palpable. We could all feel success and optimism in our bones. We knew we were on the edge of a new era and our great country was leading the way. The succeeding years were worn down by other concerns, and Vietnam was dawning, the maelstrom that would drain our country of billions of dollars and immeasurable blood and tears. But that unity was there for a while, because our leaders had led and pulled us together.
I cannot find a word to contrast sufficiently the tone of our country at this time, but the person who is at the top will long be known as “the great divider.” We have a surge of division and suspicion, doubt and fear rising like a tide of polluted water immersing all of us in a sea of confusion. I grieve for the losses we have experienced as a nation. Will we come to be a place of hope and integrity once again, a symbol of strength and freedom? I pray that we do.
Apollo 11 was part of a dream come true. What dreams can we project to a world of confusion and fear? The world has often been plagued with darkness. Peter advised his fellow believers who lived in very dreary times: “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened. But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience.” (I Peter 3:14-16). In any time and place, I think we are called to be people who “shoot for the moon” of human behavior, to demonstrate the love of God with confidence, integrity, and grace. We can do our small part to bring people together in a new dream of what life can be like.