’Twas a nice Christmas Day, and since it was early in the morning and since my sweetheart was sleeping in I took my sneaks and my racquets and sneaked out quietly.
She was not lazy. It was just after sunrise and we had stayed up late. Not attending Midnight Mass with Catholic friends, for we had not, despite there are certain gestures of Judeo-Christian solidarity that I am happy, even keen, to maintain. Not every year and not this one, and in fact we had been engaged in habitat for humanity type activities all week (though not for the organization of that name), and let me tell you, climbing up on a ladder to fix a roof with the pros yelling at you “three limbs on the rungs!” gets you.
Let her sleep, thought I, and go to the courts. On the way I checked the news and imagine my joy at seeing the launch was on! Today was the day! After delays and last-minute checks and what else, it was countdown time for the mighty Ariane 5 rocket that would carry the James Webb telescope higher than the highest skies and thence into outer space.
The James Webb (named for a Marine who headed NASA in the 1960s) is the next big thing after the Hubble, for decades the most important keyhole into the mysteries of the universe. Now we are sending up an even farther-seeing keyhole. What fine timing, Christmas Day! I hurried to the courts on what was fast becoming a mild and sunny day here, to meet a tennis pal who had heard about the launch but was not so sure about the significance of the date.
It was originally scheduled earlier, he pointed out. They were waiting for the right weather down there by the Equator. The launch pad is in French Guiana, where the French, builders with other Euros of the mighty rocket, maintain their Cape Canaveral.
They thought they were waiting, I argued. There are no accidents. This is part of the plan.
Christmas is when a Jewish child was born to a teenage mother, arguably out of wedlock, and fortunately there was a compassionate and understanding father in the picture and it worked out because this child grew to be a great teacher whose lessons we still study. You can disagree about what he said and why — the disagreements began right away, viz. the Gospels — but you can disagree about what happened at Mt. Sinai, too, and you still know the tablets of the law were brought down.
This birth, this day, is for human goodness. Is goodness often, even normally, defeated by wickedness? Maybe; after all, consider the Christmas Truce of 1914 might have stopped a war that killed millions and wrecked the West as a civilization. But, you note, the truce did not last.
Sure enough. But we continue — maybe if we hang in there, even by the skin of our teeth, we finally will get to where the roles are reversed, good outlasts wickedness.
Got to believe. That, as you know, is the Judeo-Christian rule, got to believe — this is why in both traditions, suicide is an absolute no-no on account it expresses despair overcoming faith. What a wonderful gift they gave with this giant telescope that will be taken out of its transport and put together in outer space by remote control, what a despair-defeating feat!
The great rocket carrying the mighty telescope, blasting off from the tropics, is proof we still believe we can know and know more, and believe we can know, even though mysteries remain, the difference between good and evil, love and hate, freedom and tyranny, hey — let us not get sentimental, but let us cheer them on, those guys — and gals — peering ever deeper into space, into the Creator’s universe, as I know he wants us to.
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