This picture of my father, taken in 2007, found its way back into my life recently. I thought about this photo several times over the years, as I originally wanted to frame a copy to give to my father. Although the glare from his glasses makes it difficult to see his eyes, I always appreciated the angle this picture was taken from. It makes me think about those awe-inspiring etchings of Mr. Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln, the faces who grace the side of Mt. Rushmore. Poised and distinguished, they look out into the world, perhaps recalling their individual experience of trials, dreams fulfilled and dreams that still drift beyond the horizon, as they wait for them to land and prosper in some other lifetime. Similarly, this picture of my father speaks to me as if he were saying, “I was a part of this. I was a part of history in the making. It was a great ride and I gave it everything I had and I’m proud of the work I did.”
I’ve always liked playing the “word game”. I need to find a better title, but for now I’ll just explain what the “word game” is. Basically, finding a few words that describe someone’s character, their strengths, what is unique and illuminating about them, what they bring to the table as an individual and as a team player. I think of inspiration, dedication and integrity, when I see this photo of my father.
As I pondered these words, I began to think more deeply about my father’s 50-year career working in the space industry. I became eager to learn what this investment of time meant to him now, as he approaches his 80th birthday. Looking back on the history that he was living, that he was a part of making, I began to contemplate questions that I could ask to learn more of his own personal experience. I find there is so much to learn from other’s stories. Funny, I never thought about asking my father about his time at NASA and what being a part of the space industry meant to him, especially in its’ formative years.
Questions that surfaced were: What was the journey like for you and your peers, planning and creating a mission that would take a space shuttle and crew to the moon, that millions of people would come to watch on live television? What was it like being a part of developing the Hubble Telescope (what would become an important tool, allowing for a closer look and deeper understanding of our solar system and beyond)? What was it like when missions failed and you had to take a step back, reassess and begin again? Was it ever hard to move forward, especially after tragedies occurred?
My dad began with one word, “dedication”. He paused, then said: “Having a team of like-minded individuals who never said it wasn’t possible is what made it possible. We had a visionary leader at the time of the first lunar landing, Warner Von Braun. We believed in him and he believed in us. There was trust. There was a knowing that we would have to rework, reconfigure, start from scratch many times. There was also a knowing that we could succeed.” We had a support system, we had a common goal. We had the mindset, individually and as a group, that we would get where we needed to be. We would eventually reach our goal, even when sitting in the unknown, from the beginning of a project to its’ end, even with the tragic and unfortunate accidents and loss of life along the journey. There was a desire to create and to learn as much as we could. The astronauts shared this view and felt it was worth the risk that came with each mission. Space presented a challenge of something beautifully unknown and even now it never stops mystifying us as we will never run out of things to learn. There was a respect for what each person brought to the table, the vision and the desire to explore, to understand, kept everyone inspired, even on the toughest days. My hope is someday, as a nation, we can return to the wonder, excitement and team spirit of space exploration that originally built its’ foundation decades ago.”
One thing that stood out to me after hearing his response were many memories of the time, focus, attention and deep care my father gave to the church we attended for several years. The dedication he showed through offering servitude as an Usher and Eucharistic Minister for the church. I would see him every Sunday morning greeting members of the parish and helping them find a seat at an often-crowded Catholic Mass. At the end of the Mass, every song book and every missalette was put back in its upright position on the pew rack. Any remaining wafers were put back in the Tabernacle for the next Mass. All sacred vessels (chalices & patens) used for Communion, were gently and thoroughly washed, blessed and put away exactly as they were found. No matter what, he would always genuflect every time he approached and descended from the church alter.
Every aspect of this experience had a special meaning to him. You could see this in the time that was carefully given, the attention to detail, the connection he felt to the church and its’ people. This was life unfolding right in front of my young eyes, eyes that could not completely comprehend or appreciate the love, care, respect and commitment he had to something he believed in and felt supported by. Allowing a connection to form through his own expression of offering his unique gifts and time, brought him a feeling of closeness to God, to the church and to the church community. It was often reflected by the parishioners how much they appreciated and felt comforted by my father when they would see his warm smile greeting them every Sunday. It was as if those who encountered my dad, could sense how much he cared about his responsibilities to the church as well as how much he cared about others.
So, I go back to the word my dad started out with, “dedication” and add in the sense of community he described. I grasped what I think he was saying. Overall, it was having the belief in yourself, trusting those moments when the mind, body and spirit are trying to get your attention and guiding you to say “Yes” manifest this, trust this, do this! Do you value yourself and what you can contribute to a community, a team, a group of like-minded individuals and even those who can learn what you may or may not be aware of that you are teaching or providing a need for? Do you allow yourself to receive support and encouragement from others who truly believe in you and what you individually bring to the world? Is it fear of failure, hurt, disappointment or discovering you are a fool for trying and that you lack the ability to succeed. Is this what keeps you from responding to your own passion and desire and what uniquely moves you to want to act?
There will be loss, change, transitions, just as sure as there will be time to learn from our mistakes, to go further, to even strive beyond what we ever thought possible. There will also be time to feel happiness, contentment and to celebrate. We can’t have one experience without the other. We can’t create, collaborate, support or love without accepting the entire experience (the unknown). Imagine the unfortunate experience, if those before us said “No” to their own calling to explore the unknown. In one way or another, this would impact so many lives of those before us and those of us currently alive in the world today. Had these individuals, these groups, these unique visionaries and leaders located in various communities world-wide, had they not taken the time, cultivated and shared their talents, given their determination, given and received support and encouragement from others, taken a risk, learned from experience, believed in a purpose and chosen to embrace fear while equally embracing their curiosity, what would our world look like today?
Simply put, those who gave their time for decades (and in some instances their very own life) , whether it was being a parent, being a partner, a friend, a member of society, a member of an organization or project or initiating a an idea or movement that may have been too left of center for the times, those who shared their experience of hardship and success, they impacted the betterment of humankind in a very important way, (however big or small one may choose to view it). I feel they would want the journey to continue and evolve. They wouldn’t have said yes and committed if they didn’t see a bigger picture in some way, a picture that would surpass reaching what was the very first vision, attempt, loss and success.
Discover your real self our own unique light, your own unique path. This is giving and receiving, this is authentically living your life. When we work toward realizing our own value, our worth, the importance we each have in this life, we find the people, the project, the experiences that support and reflect meaning and purpose in our own life. When we identify this within ourselves we identify it in others and give others the freedom to do the same. We then can create an unstoppable force, anything can be possible, even what may appear at the time to be impossible. Say “Yes” to the unknown, commit. Just as much as those before us, you make a difference and the world needs you now.