Friday, December 21, 2007
You do not know me but you and your mom met my wife ten years ago when Nancy arranged an assembly at Jefferson Elementary school in Elmhurst. The three of you talked briefly before you thrilled the kids there with your astronaut program. Nancy still remembers how proud your mom was of you. She also remembers talking to you about graduating from high school the same year you did, and that your mom and her mom were both named Rose. Mostly though she remembers how sweet your mom was. We both want you to know how sorry we are for your tragic loss.
I also just lost my mom too. When I received word she had passed away one of my good friends was online. Marc and I have corresponded for over two years via e-mail. We’ve never met in person but when I sent him an e-mail asking for his prayers he immediately called to offer his sympathy. The Internet can be a terrible thing but also a wonderful thing. It can deliver grief with stunning swiftness, but it can also deliver tender condolences from people you’ve never met who want you to know they are with you in spirit. Many thousands of us down here on Earth are praying for you and your family tonight.
When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut, but I had to give up my dream since my tendency toward airsickness would have washed me out of flight training. The last time I flew with my dad I was 10 years old. Dad had a real hot-rod of a plane, a Thorp T-18, which we flew to a little airport in the California desert where I made the mistake of eating a greasy cheeseburger. Climbing back out of the desert the turbulence was pretty bad, and as we were landing I was frantically estimating how much time it would take dad to taxi off the runway and open the canopy, and whether or not I should try for the weeds or just blow chunks right there on the tarmac.
On final approach I knew I wasn’t going to make it. By then I was looking for anything in the cockpit I could fill with a partially digested cheeseburger. With inspiration born of desperation I whipped off one of my shoes and filled it right to the brim. (I hadn’t told my dad I felt sick; you should have seen the look on his face-- It was a mixture of amazement, pride, and disgust). He landed the plane smoothly despite the fact he was trying hard not to laugh. Or maybe he just wanted to land softly so I didn’t drop my puke-filled shoe. All I knew was it was time to consider another career path.
Many years since then I have landed in your home town of Lombard, Illinois, where all of us are mourning the loss of your mom but feeling proud of you and your achievements, which are a reflection of your mother’s guidance and love. I am thinking now of a book I still have which was signed by Bill Anders of Apollo 8. It has a picture of a spacewalking astronaut on the cover and is a treasured reminder of my childhood dreams. During their mission, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders all took turns reading from the book of Genesis on Christmas Eve. Here is what Bill Anders said that night:
“For all the people on the Earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you.” Well Dan, we down here have a message we would like to send up to you: May God comfort you in this time of sorrow, and return you home safely to your family.