On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans ever to land on the moon. About six-and-a-half hours later, Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon. “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Half a century later, I can tell you just where I was when this monumental moment in human history transpired. I had just turned 15 and it was a beautiful summer evening in Chanhassen, Minnesota. I was sitting at the kitchen table in the Sunrise Hills home of Bonnie Patterson along with Diane Bjornson. Bonnie was 2 years older than Diane and me; she had a big contagious laugh and she possessed way more sass and nerve than we ever dreamed of!
Diane and I watched with eyes wide open as Bonnie assembled the surgical instruments needed. One long fat sewing needle. Two ice cubes. One potato. Cotton balls and a bottle of rubbing alcohol.
Diane squeezed her eyes shut when Bonnie described in detail how the ice cubes would freeze the tender flesh of the ear lobe deadening the nerve endings so that when she pushed the needle through so it wouldn’t hurt so much. She reassured us that the strategically placed potato would protect the jugular vein from the sharp end of the needle after penetration. Otherwise, she explained, you would probably bleed out since there is so much blood traveling through jugular veins. Diane covered her ears, “LaLaLaLa!! I am not doing this and I’m not going to watch!”
Bonnie’s mother, Phyllis, was in the living room watching TV. “Girls! Come quick! They are doing it! They are really doing it! There is a man walking on the moon!! And it’s on the television! Come quick. This night will go down in history!”
We could not be bothered with something so far away. We were busy chattering, reassuring, screaming, giggling, protesting, and in the end, we agreed: Bonnie would pierce my ears. Phyllis kept calling us, but we successfully dodged her pleas to come to watch the man walk on the moon.
Recently a couple of billionaires financed their own forays to the edge of space carrying paying passengers and returning safely to earth without blowing up their vehicles. The funny thing is, I was too busy to watch this time too. I’m not sure what I was doing this time.
The two launches are a far cry from orbiting the earth and a really far cry from traveling to the moon and walking around, but it’s still pretty awesome and will probably save billions of dollars in future space exploration, making it possible to eventually create colonies of humans on the moon, Mars and beyond. Yikes!
However, complaints are rampant regarding these guys not directing their billions toward solving pressing social problems right here on earth. (And by the way, people complained about the same exact thing since the early days of the space race.) But today the planet is quite literally on fire and yet rainforests are being depleted at record speed around the globe. The last year and a half worldwide pandemic has accelerated human suffering and is evident through increased homelessness, poverty, unemployment, substandard housing, mental illness, racial unrest, gun violence, domestic violence, alcoholism, and substance abuse. Some wonder if perhaps those billions might not be better used helping our fellow man right here at home; it seems that many of these issues could be solved with more funding.
Yet, there is something marvelous about human imagination and our capacity for exploration and invention. I think only history will reveal whether space travel is a step ahead or a step back for humanity. After all, if we can’t solve some of these basic problems right here on this planet, what makes us think we won’t just spread our troubles to space colonies and beyond? The temptation is great to think that money can solve all the problems of human behavior.
Deuteronomy 15:11: “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore, I command you to be openhanded to the poor and needy in your land.”
Yes, we live in a fallen world and people with issues will always be around. Homelessness, poverty, unemployment, mental illness, violence, and the like have always been and will always be with us. Scripture is clear about this, but the second part of that verse tells us that because of this we should be even more generous.
There are lots of loud voices out there shouting from their soapboxes and it’s challenging, even for the believer, to keep the main thing the main thing. I heard an author recently, “It’s not my job to feed the 5,000. I am just asked to provide the loaves and fishes. God will take it from there.”
We are all called to be generous with the less fortunate whether we are Christians or not, but it’s especially important for the Christ-follower. Some of us will use our billions, and some of us our nickels; it’s all fishes and loaves. Yes, there will always be trouble around us but that doesn’t let us off the hook. We are called to be more generous.
At the end of the day, we will surely drive ourselves nuts trying to ascertain what Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson should or should not be doing with their money. We can only answer the call for ourselves. We can only take that one small step for ourselves and leave the rest up to God.
Well, that beautiful summer evening in July 1969 gave way to night, and as I walked home with throbbing ear lobes and brand-new earrings, the moon lit my path. Pausing to gaze into the skies, I remember thinking in the quiet of that moment, just how amazing it was that an actual person made it all the way to the moon, opened the hatch, walked on the surface, and lived to tell about it. And today they are selling tickets to space!
Half a century from now my grandson, Christian will be my sister Solveig’s age and it boggles my mind to think of the small steps and giant leaps waiting for him in 2071.