We grieve the loss of these seven men and women. Though their loss is profound, we lose people around us everyday. One day, this world will claim us. What then? What song will people remember that we have sung? What lyrics will people remember that we wrote with our lives? In time, most of us will simply fade away, never to be remembered again. What then?
“Good morning, Linda! We appreciate the great words and boy, looking out the window you really can tell He is a God of wonders and we sure appreciate being able to look out and enjoy the view! And we are looking forward to another great day! I’d also like to say hello to Steve Green. He’s a good friend of mine. Good to hear your voice and we are looking forward to another great day in space.”
And so began day six for Red Team aboard Space Shuttle Columbia with the traditional playing of a song as a wake-up call and with the brief interchange between Rick Husband, Columbia flight commander, and Mission Control.
Rick’s wife, Evelyn, had picked the song “God of Wonders” to be played on that day. The song reflected the strong faith in the Lord that Rick and his wife shared. It also represented the special friendship that the Husband family had developed with songwriter and performer Steve Green.
In the song, Green sings: “Lord of all creation/ Of water, earth, and sky/ The heavens are your tabernacle/ Glory to the Lord on high/ God of wonders beyond our galaxy/ You are holy, holy.”
In an interview with CNN’s Connie Chung, Steve Green spoke of Rick’s deep faith in God. He spoke of an e-mail he received from Rick from the Space Shuttle Columbia. Rick wrote that he was looking out the window of the shuttle with his eyes filled with tears as he marveled at God’s earth. He wrote that if there’s a story, there’s a storyteller; if there’s a work of art, there’s an artist.
Not all the wake-up songs during those 17 days the astronauts were in space have as deep a story line. But in the aftermath of the tragedy, it’s interesting how choosing one song can say so much about the character of a person’s life and bring so much attention to the song’s artist and to love for God they shared.
As I looked back over the songs played for both teams of astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia, I see unfortunate irony in a few of them. On day nine, the song “Burning Down the House,” by the Talking Heads, was played; on day 11, “I Say a Little Prayer,” by Dionne Warwick; on day 12, “When Day Is Done,” by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli; and the final wake-up call was “Scotland the Brave,” by The Black Watch and the band of the 51st Highland Brigade, a group of bagpipers. The same group’s rendition of “Amazing Grace” had been played on day five.
We never know when we will wake up to our last song. We never know when we will speak our final words. We don’t know when our days will be done. We don’t know when our house, the body, will come falling down. We don’t know when the bagpipers will come playing for us one last time. We don’t know when our little prayers will be our last. It could be today. What then?
On day 15, “Imagine,” by John Lennon, was played. Lennon sings: “Imagine there’s no heaven/ It’s easy if you try/ No hell below us/ Above us only sky.”
For Rick Husband, I have no doubt that his imagination couldn’t carry him into that part of Lennon’s world––not for a man whose eyes were filled with tears as he looked upon the earth spinning below like a top, believing that the hand of God had put that earth in motion––the work of an artist with no equal.
We grieve the loss of these seven men and women. Though their loss is profound, we lose people around us everyday. One day, this world will claim us. What then? What song will people remember that we have sung?
What lyrics will people remember that we wrote with our lives? In time, most of us will simply fade away, never to be remembered again. What then?
If you are so inclined, you might imagine there not being a heaven or a hell, as Lennon sings. He says it’s easy, but I find it difficult to believe that we are no different from the grass of the field and the birds of the air.
I’d much rather live with the hope that there’s yet another wake-up call awaiting the Christian. Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth:
“But I am telling you this strange and wonderful secret: we shall not all die, but we shall all be given new bodies! It will all happen in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For there will be a trumpet blast from the sky, and all the Christians who have died will suddenly become alive, with new bodies that will never, never die; and then we who are still alive shall suddenly have new bodies too. For our earthly bodies, the ones we have now that can die, must be transformed into heavenly bodies that cannot perish but will live forever” (1 Cor 15:51-53).
This is what I choose to imagine. This is what Rick Husband imagined. His scientific mind found room for a childlike faith. He believed in the Lord of creation. His view from space only reinforced his belief.
Now he has heard the last trumpet sound and he enjoys a new body and a new tabernacle: the heavens. Though we grieve his death and those of his colleagues, and though our eyes will be filled with tears of others in the future, the Christian can still find reason to sing, “Glory to the Lord on high/ God of wonders beyond our galaxy/ You are holy, holy, holy.”
Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. A version of this column first appeared in The Moultrie Observer.