Message from the Pastor

Bulletin Issue: September 24, 2017

“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” The opening line of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities came to mind recently as I reflected upon two significant events, that, in distinct ways, recall the 1960s—an era in which so many parishioners grew up. The publicity surrounding the end of the Cassini–Huygens mission to Saturn recalled the excitement surrounding the emergence of the NASA space program nearly 60 years ago. I remember watching with enthusiasm, as millions of other Americans did, the successful space programs which highlighted the decade. Our national pride stirred when courageous American astronauts were launched into orbit in programs bearing the god-like names of Mercury (1959-63) Gemini (1963-66), and Apollo (1961-72).

I felt a similar enthusiasm September 15, when I followed  how the robotic instruments of Cassini were commanded to fly into Saturn's upper atmosphere and burn up, thus preventing any risk of contaminating Saturn's moons (which may offer habitable environments to stowaway terrestrial microbes on the spacecraft). After 20 years of discovery and exploration around Saturn and several of its moons, this internationally engineered satellite brought a new awareness to the ancient question, Is there life beyond our planet? The astro-biological findings on Saturn’s moons, Titan and Enceladus, lead many scientists to believe that there very well might be.

On the other hand, the PBS documentary, “The Vietnam War,” brought back memories of some of the worst aspects of the 1960s. The Kennedy Center recently hosted a 45-minute preview of the 18-hour documentary with a panel discussion of Vietnam War veterans Senator  John McCain, former Secretary of State John Kerry, and former defense secretary Chuck Hagel. Their presence and words added poignancy to the program’s profound pathos, and I could not help feeling the old yet familiar sadness stored in memories from 50 years ago. The sadness was reinforced watching and reflecting upon each episode, as 55-year old and over viewers experienced again the images and the interviews which eventually tore our nation apart. The combined estimated war deaths total more than 1.3 million. Of those deaths, 58,307 were Americans, 28 were students from my high school, and three were my own classmates. All their names are now listed on the Vietnam War Memorial Wall. In viewing the documentary, one has a genuine sense of how one’s formative story participated in our nation’s tragic history.

At a time when our nation once again seems fragmented, an effect of the documentary might very well be to help reunite us through stories and history. If the documentary achieves this purpose, it will truly enable our nation, and indeed our world, to move beyond the tragedies of divisions and wars and toward the planets and the stars with a unified purpose and a real sense that the best of times remain ahead of us.