“Wake up, Jeremy. Night launch.” Pop-pop’s voice rasped somewhere near my ears. I opened my eyes into the beam of his flashlight.
“What time is it?” I recoiled, groping for the bedside clock.
“Time to get going.” He pulled on his ball cap and turned from my bed. I shuffled after him, clad only in pajama bottoms and bare feet.
Pop-pop and I shared two passions: spring training and the NASA space program. I think he moved to Florida for just that reason. Some said he left Michigan to escape the cold. I knew better. The Detroit Tigers trained in Lakeland and each spring we’d sit in the stands at Tiger Town smiling at the pleasure of a ball game under a warming Florida sky.
“We’re close enough to look at his eyes, Jeremy; you see what the pitcher’s thinking. You don’t get that sitting next to the sky in the big ballparks. This is the real deal.”
Pop-pop liked to be close to the game, part of the action. While his heart played in the infield, his eyes strayed 86 miles toward the coast--to the shuttle program at Kennedy Space Center.
“You can see them launch from here, Jeremy. It’s not as good as watching them light the candle at Kennedy, but you can see them fly into space from your own back yard.”
Pop-pop loved those launches. He’d figured out just where to stand in our yard to see the engines’ fiery glow slice a smoky incision through the sky. He’d watch his shuttles--Columbia, Discovery, Atlantis--leave the earth like old friends off on a long journey. Days later, if they landed back at the Cape, he’d listen for the double-thunder of sonic booms which rattled the windows to herald their return across the Florida landscape.
“Welcome back, old friend.”
And so, at 1:15 a.m., we stood shoulder to shoulder looking eastward. Tonight, Discovery would make a night launch. A cloudless sky promised a good viewing. The early April air cooled my skin as I rubbed my eyes awake.
“Courage--Jeremy--it takes courage to let them strap you into a rocket and shoot you into space. Those astronauts are brave men, even that Sally Ride.”
Pop-pop chuckled and put his hand on my shoulder.
“But real courage is to look at your face in the mirror and ask that man, ‘Am I doing God’s work here on earth or am I just using up time?’ Ask yourself the hard questions, Jeremy. Don’t let them make God out as some flaky old woman who pats you on the head and hands you a cookie. He’s good. He’s gracious. But He asks hard questions. If you can’t face yourself, you won’t be able to face your maker.”
“What does that man tell you, Pop-pop?”
He patted my shoulder. “You’re a good boy, Jeremy; you’ll be a good man when the time comes. God gave me some of those talents you hear about in the parable. He made me a good businessman. I treated people fair: I helped them get loans for homes, send their kids off to school. And when He gave me those talents, He gave me trust and He gave me strength. It’s been a privilege to work for the master, but He will ask for an accounting. I’m ready, Jeremy, ready to empty out my account before Him. I may not get to heaven with the most talents, but I surely invested all He gave me.”
Pop-pop aimed the flashlight’s beam at the face of his watch, 1:30. We returned our gaze to the heavens and watched the brilliant flare of raw power as Discovery blazed across the velvet sky.
“Goodbye, old friend.”
Pop-pop passed away late one summer night. I missed him. On a sticky mid-September morning I stood alone in the yard and watched a smoky plume trace Discovery’s journey across an azure sky. Ten days later it would make the first night landing at Kennedy. Pop-pop would have loved that.
He was the real deal. And I knew that his soul had blazed a trail across the night sky to heaven where it landed at the throne of God. There, Pop-pop knelt before his creator and emptied his pockets.
“Lord, I brought back those talents you gave me; here’s the interest, too.”
“Welcome back, old friend.”
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