Most of us are anxious to bid farewell to the year 2020. With a deadly pandemic and its resultant economic lockdown, the tragic death of George Floyd and its ensuing violent protests; fraught national politics and a vitriolic election season; wildfires, tropical storms, and earthquakes, we might wonder, what else could go wrong this year.
Of all of the words of comfort out there, I have been most inspired by the words of someone very close to me.
Michael’s grandson Jesse Cook was one of the many unlucky seniors to miss out on his high school graduation in Boston. As class president, Jesse had the honor of taping his graduation speech, which aired online on the day they would have graduated. Jesse said:
“This year has been compared to several other points in history; the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, the Great Depression, and even the aftermath of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. I find 1968 to be a better comparison.
Like 2020, the U.S. saw a presidential election, and Boston sports fans were angry about losing a seven-game championship series the year prior… Also, like 2020, there was an abundance of misfortune as disaster after disaster plagued the world. America was locked, starting to lose the war in Vietnam, presidential candidate and advocate for equal rights Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated, and one of the greatest minds of the 20th Century, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was fatally shot. The world looked like an awful place in which to live.
In the midst of all this chaos, N.A.S.A. was still hard at work, hell-bent on putting a man on the moon. In December of 1968, nearing the end of one of the worst years in American history, the crew of Apollo 8 embarked on the most important mission to date.
Their mission was to be the first humans to leave Earth for the moon. They would lock into lunar orbit, orbit ten times, and come home. No crew had ever attempted to lock into lunar orbit, and, consequently, no crew had ever attempted to leave lunar orbit for Earth. One slight mistake and they could either be vaulted into the vast emptiness of space or violently shuttled directly into the unforgiving surface of the moon, doomed to die in both scenarios. They had to be perfect.
As they approached the most dangerous part of the mission, flying over the dark side of the moon, where communications with mission control would be impossible, the world held its breath. The mission came at the tail end of a year of disaster, so why shouldn’t something else go horribly wrong? For seemingly the first time all year, fittingly on Christmas Eve, everything went right. Communication reconnected at the right time, and the world listened in joy to a safe crew. They became the first humans to ever witness an Earthrise, and as the world saw the beautiful pictures of the journey and learned that it was possible to go to the moon and come back, everything began to heal a little bit.
Upon returning home to Earth, Apollo 8 Mission Commander Frank Borman received an anonymous letter, reading, “Thank you, Apollo 8. You saved 1968.”
Now, I’m not saying that there has to be a mission to the moon or some other incredible worldwide event to save 2020, but I am saying that life will not always be this massive hardship. Look for the victories in your own life because even the smallest win can save a bad day. My sister has always loved a quote from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Dumbledore says, “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
In 1968, the world was a dark place, but, ironically, by flying over the dark side of the moon, Apollo 8 turned on a light. We will all go through dark times in life, but you can make them easier by just turning on that light.”
Such perspective and wisdom from someone just starting his adult life, but like the prophet Joel states, “The old shall dream dreams, but the youth shall see visions.” May Jesse’s vision for a brighter tomorrow sustain us as we hope for a better and brighter 2021.
Rabbi Judy Chessin