Fifty years ago last Sunday, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. I remember that day well as we were sent home from school to look at history being made. Black and white televisions were placed in shop windows so people could gather around to watch what was unfolding so far from our homes. Even now, on some full-moon nights, I find it amazing that people have actually travelled all the way there and walked upon it.
After travelling to the moon and back, what does one do with the rest of one’s life? How could anything compare with that? The last man to walk on the moon, Gene Cernan, said it was ‘tough to find an encore’. What did those moon-walkers think when they looked at the moon from their lounge windows? Not surprisingly, some struggled when they returned.
James Irwin spent three days on the moon in 1971 as part of the Apollo 15 mission. He was the first to drive the moon buggy. Irwin described a moment that had a profound impact upon him, when he was standing on the moon looking back to earth, closed one eye, held up his thumb and was able to cover the entire planet. He said that moment made him feel terrifyingly small. He gained a perspective that very few people have experienced.
Both Aldrin and Irwin were committed Christians. Their experience of travelling to the moon strengthened their faith in a sovereign God. The vastness of the cosmos was overwhelming and yet their understanding that they were significant and loved by God, sustained and strengthened them. Not all the astronauts were people of faith. Charlie Duke, number 10 to walk on the moon, became so destabilised after returning from the moon that he felt his life was imploding, causing angst for his wife and children. He was to later discover the peace of God and so was able to deal with the immense challenge of coping with the mundane after such a magnificent achievement.
All lives have highs and lows – but for some, the gap between the two is greater. In the midst of the challenges of life, faith in God and in his goodness and love is sustaining. It is the thread that can hold lives together when the pressure bears down. It helps us cope with both the victories and defeats that each of us experience.
God’s peace and love to you all in a life in which 50 years can go very quickly.
Senior School Chaplain