Happy Valentine’s Day to Gabby Gifford, Mark Kelly and the Rest of Us

>I’m thinking about Congresswoman Gabby Giffords’ and her husband Mark Kelly’s marriage as Valentine’s Day approaches and the O. Henry-esque “Gift of the Magi” decision that they are making about his Space Shuttle flight. I’m wishing them both Godspeed along with every couple across the world who have been through life’s gauntlet. With Cindy’s recent surgery and Narcie’s continuing saga I know that I’ve seen great love from my son-in-law Mike and I hope I’ve been an okay nurse to my dear wife. Here’s wishing a safe flight to Mark Kelly and Rep. Giffords.

Every disaster connects us, doesn’t it? For instance, cross my fingers, the Space Shuttle “Columbia” disaster contained a lesson for all humanity. There were Americans on board, of course, but there were also connections to India and Israel. Diversity in race and gender was also present. Space exploration has been a great human leveler. It combats our xenophobic national pride and from the vantage point of space we embrace the whole planet.

Astronaut Sultan Bin Salman al-Saud from Saudi Arabia once said after a shuttle trip: “The first day or so we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day we were aware of only one Earth.” The losses of seven souls on February 1 were not just American, Indian, or Israeli, but a diminishment of all humankind.

John Donne of England said it well, however antiquated, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

In every death, whether of innocence or life, the ripple effect amplifies the tragedy to universal proportions. This is what makes Adam and Eve’s actions in the Garden speak for all humankind and perpetuate self-will over God’s will. Original Sin may explain our human condition en masse, but it also finds its proof in the everyday actions of you and me. Is there anything original about Original Sin anymore? Each of us has done our voluntary part to carry on the bent to sinning with which we were born.

But, just as there has been a ripple effect of sin, there is the ripple effect of love. St. Paul said it something like this in Romans: Through one man Adam sin entered the world; through one man Jesus Christ comes grace. The ever-expanding example of love begun in Jesus reflects God’s best hope for humanity. In Jesus we see the victory of selflessness over selfishness.

The crew of the Columbia exhibited this same selflessness. Every journey into space is a selfless cry for a cosmic view of humanity. By its very nature, space exploration should imply an effort to better all people. From space we get a God’s-eye view of the world that comes closest to God’s own motivation to leave behind the safe confines of eternity and become bound by time and space in incarnation. In the selfless sacrifice and risk-taking of the shuttle crew we glimpse the God-like motivation to lay aside personal gain for the good of all.

James Gillespie Magee aptly describes this selfless heavenly vantage point:

“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there

I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,

I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace

Where never lark, or even eagle flew –

And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod

The high unsurpassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand and touched the face of God.”