Both he and his wife were rocket scientists. Literally.

The Recovery of Apollo 13
The Recovery of Apollo 13

They had both worked in Alabama somewhere before retiring and coming to live at our retirement community. And that was about all I knew as their children, who lived in the area, had arranged their parent’s residency with us. As the children knew that their parent’s valued their independence, they insisted that they have one of the cottage homes which surrounded our main building.

Unfortunately, once I met mom and dad, it was obvious that dad was well along into dementia. Although quite pleasant and completely likable, he was also completely lost on our campus. So much so, in fact, that he was unable to remember the way to the main three-story building that was visible the moment you stepped out your front door. I was extremely concerned about his abilities and his safety away from the rest of the residents.

Another couple that came to reside with us about that time were former missionaries. They had traveled all over the world, preaching the gospel. As, by their very nature, they were quite gregarious, they chose to live in the main three-story building with a hundred or so other residents. They also had children in the area—one of whom, their son-in-law, had an interesting story to tell.

In fact, the son-in-law’s story was so interesting that the activity director thought he should tell all of our residents about it. You see, he had once worked for NASA. And he had been a member of the capsule environmental team for Apollo 13 when everything fell apart. And it looked like three astronauts were going to die in space.

I wasn’t there the day he spoke,  but I heard about it afterward. And I certainly wish I had been available. It’s something I’ll always regret missing. The presentation was arranged and scheduled. The residents excitedly gathered. The speaker stood up before them. And completely froze in astonishment as he watched one of our residents amble on in.

“Bob! What are you doing here!?” he questioned.* It turns out that not only was the speaker involved in saving Apollo 13 but the cottage resident with dementia, one of our two rocket scientists, had been as well. In fact, he had been our speaker’s boss.  He was in charge of the capsule environmental team that saved the astronaut’s lives.

As the speaker hadn’t been in contact with his former director since they had both retired, he didn’t know and probably wouldn’t have ever guessed that he couldn’t have found his way into that room unaided. He simply invited him up to the front of the room to join the discussion. And from what I was told, it was phenomenal.

That day, that hour, that moment, our cottage resident was spot on, attuned to every detail, every fact, every nuance of the mission over those critical hours. Together, they tag-teamed the discussion, bouncing back and forth, entertaining the residents with the presentation of a lifetime. Then, when the presentation was over, the residents all stood and applauded the two unsung heroes in their midst.

Sometimes, along the gray mile, miracles do happen. The sun comes out, shines brightly and shows the path as clear as it as can ever be. And somewhere near the end of that trail, the words are spoken, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Tom Text

*Not his real name.




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