Last Saturday, Knox and I went to the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Brent and the girls were having some bonding time at a Girl Scout outing so I decided to play the card that never gets played by mom—the fun card. (It might as well be the Joker card for all the playtime it gets. If anything it’s just there to frustrate as with its insignificance as we shove it back into the tiny paper box next to the instruction card.) I learned later that while we were gazing up at missiles and sitting in the mars landing simulator, Neil Armstrong—more famous moonwalker even than Michael Jackson—passed away at age 82.
Getting to the space center was almost as monumental of a journey as that famed Apollo 11 flight some forty-three years ago. Armed with my Garmin GPS device, I set off. There’s just not a good way to get from Murfreesboro to Huntsville, apparently. My GPS pretty much said, “Pull out of your driveway. Turn a couple of times. Drive 30 miles. Turn again. Drive 30 miles. Turn again. Drive 30 more miles.” I really started wondering if I was going to end up back at my house only to find out that the Space Center was in my backyard all along. Since I was using mainly two-lane highways most of the way, I spent the majority of the two hour trip regretting my route. I’d get behind a flatbed truck that was transporting a house or a farmer driving a tractor while talking on his cell phone. It was painfully slow and Knox—normally an engaging conversationalist—was fully engrossed in his movie. (Side Note: I think I’ve listened to more of their movies than I’ve actually watched. It’s usually entertaining enough—like an old timey radio show but he chose to watch a Tom and Jerry DVD which is made up of sound effects like: Zwing! Ay-ya-ya-ya! Ah-oo-gah! Not exactly a riveting listening experience.) I was getting bored so I tried to look for interesting sights that would keep me alert. Road kill (why so many armadillos?), diners, auto part shops (One was called Classy Chassis—if you have to say “classy” in the name it probably isn’t), and biker gangs can only keep you interested for so long. We would go through small towns where the speed limit would drop to 35 MPH and there would be one flashing yellow light at an intersection. At one point, even my GPS got bored. She had just said to drive for twenty miles then she started to panic. “Turn right at Independence Avenue.” What? There’s no such road. The only thing on the right is a cotton field. “Turn left at Monument Road.” Left?! I can’t turn left. I’d have to drive across a median. “Make a U-turn.” Why? “Make a U-turn.” No. “Make a U-turn.” She sounded calm and confident but there was an edge to her voice that made me nervous. The map on her display kept changing like she was flipping through her memory for something that she just couldn’t find. Oh how I wished I had a good old fashioned Rand-McNally map right then. I would’ve pulled over and spread it across my steering wheel until I located where in the world I was. Then I would’ve folded it wrong and stuffed it in the glove compartment. Those were the days…
As we got closer to Hunstville, my GPS stopped freaking out and became helpful again. I’m very thankful for this because I think the Hunstville city planners were smoking crack when they planned their city. There are arrows on some of the signs hanging above the interstate that curve in ways my Honda Odyssey was not designed to do. Apparently they all drove Formula One racecars to work everyday. I figured out why they have the giant rocket looming over the space center. It gives drivers a lighthouse to aim for as they meander through the city. When I told Knox that we finally made it to the parking lot, his first words were, “Wow! That was fast.” How I love that boy!
Inside the museum we learned about military spy planes and Blackhawk helicopters. We watched an IMAX movie about Space Junk (All those satellite parts and landing gear are crashing into each other making even smaller debris that will eventually create rings around our planet like the ones around Saturn. Just when you thought there couldn’t be anything else to worry about…) and walked through an exhibit about wooly mammoths. (One of these things is not like the other…) I took pictures of Knox as he pretended to lift giant replicas of missiles and rockets. I bought him astronaut ice cream—a complete mystery to him. “So I eat it? Why isn’t it cold? Do I need a spoon? Why is it chewy?” We rode the Mars simulator multiple times to see if there was a noticeable difference in where you sit. He asked me questions about space and science that I didn’t know but I was quick to use my Wikipedia app before admitting defeat. He held my hand as we walked passed Boy Scout groups and large families. It was completely worth the trip. Today, I went to a memorial service for a college friend who passed away earlier this week. She was an amazing person—probably the most sincere and humble person I’ve ever known. In these last twenty months of her battle with cancer, she continued to tell us to savor every day, every second that God gives us. I have to wonder how much of my journey with God is like that trip to Hunstville. How much of my thoughts and energy are consumed with worrying that I’m going the wrong way or wishing that every thing, person, and event would just hurry up? I try to guess at God’s plans ahead of time like I’m solving the big ending to a predictable movie only to realize I’m wrong. Consequently, I have to make signs with squiggly arrows to explain how to navigate out of my poor choices when I could’ve eliminated all of the confusion by waiting on God’s guidance in the first place.
Another way I attempted to entertain myself on the trip down was to imagine the day that Knox—the first astronaut to land on Mars—would make a speech while accepting his Presidential Medal of Honor. “And it all started,” he would say, “When my mom took me to the Space Center when I was seven.” When we were leaving I asked him, after seeing that cool stuff, if he wanted to be an astronaut when he grows up. “No. I’m not going up there to clean up all that junk.” It didn’t turn out exactly as I imagined but in the end it was even better. I’m going to try to slow down and appreciate all the little moments that make this life the gift that it is. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that day with Knox for the world–floating junk and all.