This photograph was taken two months ago today, November 9, 2009, by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, as it flew over the surface of the moon just above the site of the 1969 landing of Apollo 11. Right over the spot where Neil Armstrong “slipped the surly bonds of earth” and set foot – for the first time – on a landscape that wasn’t our home. That shiny bright white spot is the landing site of the Eagle, just a few meters from West Crater. That’s the spot. If you look at this close-up, you can even still see the four feet of the landing pad we left behind…
I love looking at these pictures for the same reason I love getting away from the light pollution of the Twin Cities. I love to stop the car just south of Akely, MN, on the drive north to Bemidji to my parents’ house. No lights up there in the trees. Nothing to dim the millions of blinking stars and galaxies. The curtain of other worlds draped over us. I love to look at these other worlds and imagine myself on a speck of dust flinging through the dark and feel small.
And now the planet I live on seems preoccupied with another dream of otherworldliness. James Cameron’s AVATAR continues to break box-office records, raking in over One Billion dollars in just seventeen days. That’s Billion. With a “B.”
The truth is, we are thirsty for something else. Another world. We love the feeling – even if it’s just conjured up in our imagination – of stepping out onto the new landscape. We dream about it laying on our backs in the summer, looking up into the pinpricked black and trying to feel the 3D relationships between the sparkles – the depth of field that our eyes can’t communicate on the spangled sheet overhead. We seek it out on screens the size of football fields, trying to ignore the dorkiness of the plastic glasses on our noses – we want to get lost in another world.
About one year before these moon shots were taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, my Grandpa stepped onto another world. October 3, 2008, he let go of earth. His struggling lungs stopped struggling. And Rudy took his first breath in an environment that even our most vivid dreams can’t contain. Holiness. Light. Joy. Freedom. Healing. Righteousness. And Jesus.
It shakes me to think of that moment. When I let go. When I take that first step into infinite purity and awe. But I dream about it. And I want to see what Rudy sees now. And I want to see Jesus face to face.
I remember being in Middle School, January 28, 1986 – my little sister’s birthday – watching the Space Shuttle Challenger arc into the sky on the TV screens that had been rolled into our cafeteria. I remember the gasp and the quiet when we saw it burn up in a burst. We watched lives let go. Transition. Take the very first step from what we know into what we can’t fully know – until it is our turn.
And I’ll never forget how I felt when Ronald Reagan, in his television address to a grieving nation later that day, quoted from John Magee’s sonnet “High Flight.” And now, hearing the words again, looking at the moon, I can’t help but think of my Grandpa Rudy, and what an amazing otherworldly experience it must be to take your first step, your first breath in heaven.
“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 falls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, nor eer 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.”
* Written in fond memory and with deep affection for my Grandpa Rudy Skogerboe, whom I love and whom I will see again some day soon. When it is my turn. I Thessalonians 4:13-18.
“apollo 11 revisited :: grandpa rudy’s one small step” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.