Sunday, December 09, 2012


I forgot to tell you yesterday about the conversation I had with a 22 year-old young man as I was driving to Fairfax, Virginia. I am still in Fairfax, by the way, but will be pulling out for Pennsylvania in my trusty Mountaineer later this afternoon. It has been a wonderful, rewarding visit.

This young man I’d never spoken to or heard from emailed me last week, wanting to speak with me about a particular trial he was undergoing. There were personal issues between him and his girlfriend, with spiritual undertones. I called him on the way to Fairfax. I can’t and won’t disclose details, but will say that simply talking to this young man brought home a new aspect of God’s use of me.  

God carefully planned and (it seemed to me) cruelly executed my trials of the past five months. But God is only loving. His love, I knew, came full of reason, yet I was unable to look that reason in the face due to the pain of the trial. But now, from a better height above the flood, I can see and feel inner changes. I’ve a deeper grasp now of human nature and particular brands of suffering that can only help me help others in similar, or near straits. I have always been empathetic, but never quite able to stress the third syllable: empathetic. Now I can. This change reaches my bedrock and ripples surface waters. Some listeners are hearing it in my audio show, they tell me. I know I’m still gallivanting, vocally, but there’s some added bass—metaphorically speaking—to the broadcasts. I do feel something is different.  

                                                                        *  *  *

Doug and Maggie.
Imagine being asked if you like bacon and eggs. So that was breakfast yesterday, the standard, glorious American fare of champions. I even celebrated the new day by drinking Doug’s caffeinated coffee, again, which was so strong it ate through the bottom of the mug. I quit coffee last year and stayed quit, making the occasional high-octane offering that much more exciting and f-f-f-f-fun.

Doug drove us to his work. I would like to tell you I know exactly what the physicist Douglas Witherspoon does in this building, but I do not. No clue, friends. Though he explained it to me thoroughly, I know nothing about anything, except that everything boggled my poor mind.  All I know is that, Doug and his co-workers are going to a lot of trouble for something stupendous. It has to do with plasma, and with some very powerful plasma jets moving at ridiculously high speeds to do extremely naughty things with the plasma—things that are so goddamn dangerous they cause the workers who made it all happen take refuge in a steel hut with zero windows that may or may not protect them should some sort of calamity occur such as—oh, I don’t know—a large explosion.

Whatever Doug is holding here, is magnificent and just a little naughty.

Doug knows exactly what this thing does.

Here are lots of wires.

There will be a pop quiz.
                                                             *  *  *
Someday, we, the members of the body of Christ, will fly. We will fly off to heaven, through the atmosphere, the stratosphere, the ionosphere, the craposphere, and the Western Hemisphere. In the meantime, we have ancient space travel devices to marvel at (they will be ancient from our future, celestial perspective)—and marvel at them, I did.

Doug took me to the Air & Space Museum Annex, which is an adjunct to the main museum downtown (D.C.), located next to Dulles International Airport. I’ve visited the main museum a half dozen times, but have never been here. As soon as I walked into the gigantic place, flight massaged my soul. The place smelled and looked and tasted like fast flight into air and space: my future.  

Stand next to the space shuttle Discovery, and stare. Be in awe of it. Wish that at least one part of it could talk. Stand beneath it, look up, and fellowship with the thousands of mute heat shields. Try to imagine what the underbelly of this vehicle underwent while the rest of us slept or did inane things. Imagine the re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, glowing red, these very tiles protecting the pilots and crew from fiery death. Be happy for the retirement of this workhorse; it rests now. This is its retirement home, at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, next to Dulles International Airport. But the glory—my God, the glory. And the suffering. And the patience. And the Discovery.

This was the first shuttle to fly after the Challenger disaster. The Challenger disaster, in 1986, buried me in mourning. The bravery of the astronauts, the hopefuls on the ground looking up, the twin contrails of exploding SRB’s, the crew cabin plummeting, intact, miles and miles into a concrete wall of ocean; it stayed with me for weeks. Part of me still hasn’t shaken it.

Back into space. September 29, 1988
I was sitting in my car on my lunch break (postal service) in Willard, Ohio, on September 29, 1988, listening to the launch of the first shuttle mission (the “Return to Flight”) since Challenger. This was the first shuttle flight with an escape plan. The nation and world momentarily stopped breathing as the main rockets ignited. Up went our hopes and dreams—into the blue, Florida sky. I will never forget the announcer at the cape saying, “Now, at 10 miles per second.” I wept for the power and majesty. It was Discovery. I did not realize, until yesterday, standing next to the silent soldier, that this was the one that had made me cry. 25 years later, I am paying it homage.

The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird is nuts. In 1990 the military retired it in a blaze of glory as it set the transcontinental speed record from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. (last stop, Smithsonian museum), with an elapsed time of 64 minutes. Say what? I dare anyone to eat peanuts and pretzels on that flight, or page through a People magazine. The SR-71 averaged 2,144 miles per hour, glowing red at Mach 3+. Jesus. I remembered hearing the news story. Apparently, it was all true. Here’s the beast that set the record.

*  *  * 

At 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945, the B-29 Superfortress bomber Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. We told the Japanese we were going to do it. All they had to do was surrender. No one likes atomic bombs, including myself. But we did tell them. I suppose they could not imagine it. They just couldn’t find it in themselves to surrender. Human pride will kill you—on both sides. We shortened the war and saved thousands upon thousands of lives when Paul Tibbets opened the bomb bay. The price was great. The men in the plane pulled a lever and got away hard. I don’t know if they ever saw photographs. I say they refused look. I contend that, for the rest of their lives, the men could never, ever, look at the photographs.

The bomb bay.

Doug’s youngest daughter Catherine is smart, funny, beautiful, and spins a mean rifle for a color guard group at her school. Here she is with a practice rifle. 

It didn’t go off, thankfully, and no one was killed. Sunny skies and warm temperatures (is it really December?) facilitated this demonstration in front of a pine tree.

Stand around in a kitchen long enough while supper cooks, and things are bound to happen. Laura returned for supper, and the four of us (Laura, Maggie, Doug and me), launched into a Scripturefest. (Well, it was mostly me.) Laura asked great questions and is inherently distrustful (what I meant to say is, “she can’t stand”) organized religion. This set me off in bursts of hearty concurrence, and I think there was much shrapnel of blessing which shall reverberate throughout the universe in the years and eons to come.

© 2012 by Martin Zender