It wasn’t a long article. The radio news announcer was almost cryptic. “The first man to walk on the moon is dead. Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong died today, at age 82, of complications after a recent heart bypass surgery.” There would be other stories later, most with more detail, but that first one hit home for me.
I was just a month over twelve years old the day that the Apollo 11 mission left the earth. After that week, I would never look at the moon in quite the same way again. A few days after the Saturn V rocket that carried the lunar expedition blasted off, on a Sunday afternoon, we sat around my grandparent’s little black and white television set with its rabbit ears sticking into the air (adorned with aluminum foil) and waited for those now-famous words. “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Because of the limitations of the technology then, we had been unable to see the actual landing of the craft, but we had watched repeatedly as the simulations had been run onscreen. Late that night, we were able to see the actual images as the first foot was set down on the moon’s surface.
Commander Armstrong uttered those other famous (and much discussed) words as he stepped onto the fine dust of the lunar landscape, “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant step for mankind.” I remember walking out of my Grandma’s house and, as the screen door slammed shut behind me, looking up at the sky to see the familiar crescent glowing above my head. It didn’t look any different. But for the first time ever, there were people standing up there. It was a night that few would forget. And, now Neil Armstrong is dead.
I don’t know what I expected. It was a long time ago. People die. Somehow though, we don’t expect our childhood heroes, bigger than life as they seemed, to just die. But, as it turns out, heroes are just mortal men after all, governed by the same laws by which all of us live and then pass from this world. Funny…two years ago, Mr. Armstrong had suggested that he would be willing to be the commander of a manned mission to Mars. I almost believed that he could have done just that.
I don’t know what Neil Armstrong believed spiritually. At one point after his visit to the moon, he told someone, when asked about his beliefs, that he was a deist. Deists believe that nature shows the existence of a Creator, a God, but they don’t usually believe in the possibility of a personal relationship with that God. I can’t see how anyone who had been on the surface of the moon and seen the splendor of creation from that vantage point could have believed any less, but it is my hope that Commander Armstrong went beyond that first stage of belief in his later life. We’ll probably never know the answer to that question in this world.
You haven’t read my posts for very long without realizing that I believe in a personal God, One who stepped into time and space to make a way for us to be with Him. What a shame it would be to understand a God who created all of the cosmos, along with us, but to miss His incredibly simple gift of Grace.
As I considered the passing of a hero this weekend, I did have this thought. Although the passage from life to death seems to be a long and arduous one, I can almost hear that crackly voice coming through the little speaker again, as he steps into eternity and says one final time, “One small step for a man.”
“And with your final heartbeat
Kiss the world goodbye.
Then go in peace and laugh on Glory’s side, and
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus…and live!”
(from “Untitled Hymn” by Chris Rice~American songwriter/singer)
“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air….
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
– Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.”
(John Gillespie Magee, Jr~American aviator/poet~1922-1941)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.