Today is Neil Armstong's birthday. He was born on August 5th, 1930. In honor of Armstorng's birthday, I would like to repost an essay I wrote when he died in 2012. If ever there was a time when our country needed a hero...someone to look up to, it is now. I hope you enjoy!
A few days ago, Neil Armstrong, the first man to ever step foot on the moon passed away. I was deeply saddened by his passing. Those of us living in Ohio, boast a certain pride for those in our state who broke the confines of Earth. We are home to the Wright brothers, to John Glenn…the first astronaut to circle the globe, and Neil Armstrong, who uttered those famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The Apollo 11 mission began on July 15, 1969…on my 20th birthday. A few days later, at 10:56 p.m. EST on July 20th, Neil Armstrong, followed by Buzz Aldrin stepped foot on the Sea of Tranquility. It’s ironic they landed on the moon in a place called Tranquility. At the last minute the astronauts had to take over the controls of the lunar module and abort a planned computer-guided landing to a site deemed too rough a terrain by Armstrong and Aldrin. Such was the metal of our national heroes…those who possessed “the right stuff.”
I have often wondered, as I starred up at the moon, what it must have been like for those lucky enough to have stood on the moon and looked back at us here on Earth. We get so caught up in the “small stuff of life”…what must it be like to be able to see the “big picture”?
I am old enough to remember the race to the moon; which President Kennedy called for in Joint Session of Congress address on May 25, 1961. I remember how worried the country was when the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957, and caught the country off guard as the Russians thrust the world into the space age. I am old enough to remember a country that was able to put aside party bickering and posturing and overcome the entire world in our conquest of the moon. Even today, only American flags and footsteps grace the lunar surface.
And yet, for all the bragging rights those brave men claimed for our country, they wanted little to do with the limelight that comes from such exploits. Neil Armstrong spent the rest of his life avoiding the spotlight. He seldom gave interviews, or appeared at public events. During a rare interview, the reporter asked Neil what it was like to be the first man on the moon. Armstrong carefully explained that it was a team effort that allowed him to be in a position to walk on the walk on the moon…that thousands of people had participated along with him. Such was the character of the man.
In 1986, President Reagan, in a broadcast to a mourning nation after the space shuttle Challenger disaster, ended his speech with the following, ‘We will never forget them this morning as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.’
While the world will always remember those grainy images of Armstrong and Aldrin bouncing along on the surface of the moon, what most people don’t know is that Armstrong and Aldrin celebrated communion on the moon prior to leaving the lunar module. Aldrin had brought along a Bible, a silver chalice, and sacramental bread and wine.
So it seems that on that historic day in 1969, as the world honored the exploits of two very brave men, they were honoring God in a place called Tranquility.
For Neil Armstrong, there is no need to reach out to touch the face of God, because he has been called home. He is with God now. The heavens he once explored as a man, have now become his permanent home. Back in 1969, Armsrtong utterd these words as the lunar module touched down on the surface of the moon, "The Eagle has landed.” This week, as the song lyrics foretell...
And He will raise you up on eagles' wings,
bear you on the breath of dawn,
make you to shine like the sun,
and hold you in the palm of His hand
ON EAGLE'S WINGS by Michael Joncas