Do you know about the Apollo 13 mission to the moon? It’s famous because it was a near-disaster in the early days of space discovery (1970). An excellent Hollywood feature film dramatized the story 25 years later (1995). Oddly enough, though, I’ve thought about Apollo 13 a few times over the past year because of its connection with contagious disease.
A week before the launch of the Apollo 13 mission, one of the astronauts came down with the measles. He was a part of the back-up team. Still, all of the crew became what we would now call “close contacts,” exposed to the virus and potentially infected. Fortunately, almost everyone on the flight crew had already developed antibodies against the measles because of childhood infection. Only one member of the primary crew had not: Ken Mattingly. So he was grounded. The rest of the crew moved forward with a replacement for Mattingly. But no one was particularly happy about it.
Our year of threatened missions, invisible enemies, and contingency planning has felt somewhat similar to this aspect of the Apollo 13 mission. A lot of disappointment. A lot of frustration. And a lot of waiting to see if the potential becomes actual. Our kids are doing as well as can be expected, through their infections with COVID-19 in the past week. Meanwhile, Marci and I have been grounded, like Ken Mattingly: watching and waiting to see if we might get sick. And the question that keeps popping up in my mind is “Are the flowers blooming in Houston?” It’s from a mid-mission conversation between Ken Mattingly (at Mission Control in Houston) and Jim Lovell (in command of the Apollo 13 flight crew).
Ken Mattingly: 13, this is Houston, do you read?
Jim Lovell: Roger that, Ken. Are the flowers blooming in Houston?
Ken Mattingly: That’s a negative, Jim. I do not have the measles.
At this point in time, Marci and I can still answer like Ken Mattingly did, every evening when the Public Health Department sends us a text asking for a report on symptoms. “That’s a negative, Barb. We do not have any signs or symptoms of COVID-19.” We understand that we still can’t be on any missions to the moon. Or in contact with our neighbors. Or perhaps even in the process of getting vaccinated (even though we just became eligible for the vaccine in the State of Ohio, because of our age). Our current state of quarantine makes sense, scientifically. But it’s still frustrating.
We’re all getting a little stir-crazy and emotionally on-edge. But fortunately, we’re feeling more and more confident that none of us are going to need special medical care for our battle with COVID-19. With each day that passes with the kids in isolation and Marci and me in quarantine, the likelihood of our figurative “flowers blooming” diminishes. So, while we wait for the end of our isolation and quarantine, we’re entertaining ourselves with the actual flowers blooming just outside of our front door.
Last year’s societal shut-down helped me to appreciate the Spring even more than I usually do. Now our current family shut-down is helping me to do the same thing.
Our Maple trees started budding a week or two ago, before life circumstances really slowed me down enough to notice or appreciate the transformation. Just within the last week, however, some of the oaks in our area are starting to bud. The daffodils are just starting to bloom, and the crocuses have already unmasked themselves, faces fully turned to the sun.
Being “shut-down” by this virus is disorienting and disempowering. I’m more of a control freak than I like to admit, so I don’t do well with the loss of autonomy. At all. Still, there’s something beneficial about resetting expectations. Knowing that I’m not actually “mission critical” for much. God is in control. And with or without me, He’ll keep the earth rotating on its axis, revolving around the sun, seasons passing from one to the next. With or without me, my family, my church, my community — others can figure out ways to continue working through Plan A, or B, or C, or whatever. And that’s not actually a bad thing.
I’m glad that my “flowers” aren’t blooming. And I’m glad that the actual flowers are blooming. But no matter what may yet come, I’m reassured to remember that God is in control.