A number of years ago our church acquired a set of
handbells. My daughter, who was in
middle school, and I agreed that being in the church handbell choir would be a
good father-daughter activity, and so it was.
Somewhere along the line, my daughter grew up and left that handbell
choir, but I found it a satisfying activity and have continued on with it for
more than a decade.
The interesting thing about playing handbells is the amount of
concentration that it requires. You
simply cannot let your mind wander; complete attention is required to make the
music come out right. And it is a team
effort; nobody is a star, everybody is important, you really can’t play a song
with any one of the choir members missing.
The music only works if everybody plays their part correctly; a mistake
by anybody reflects on the whole group.
But when it all comes together, you are part of a group creating
something of great beauty and power.
That is a lot like spaceflight. You have to give it your complete
concentration. It is a team effort. A mistake by anybody on the team results in a
poor performance of the whole team. And
if it all works correctly, you have been a part of creating something beautiful
Last week I was privileged to attend the last shuttle launch
with a large group of former astronauts, flight directors, program managers,
launch directors, all retired. One of
those was a retired USAF general. He
told me that the biggest change in retirement was that he no longer woke up in the
middle of the night worrying about . . . things. I can relate to that. After I left the shuttle program office, I
slept a lot better. Looking back, that
was one of the great appeals of playing handbells; extreme concentration was
required and there was no room left for all those worries and anxieties that
crowd in on your mind. For a blessed
hour every week during rehearsal, all those responsibilities were not allowed
to weigh me down.
Life changes, and this year I am giving up playing handbells
in the church choir. I will miss it, but
there are other priorities now; grandchildren, a new and different career,
activities that my wife and I want to do together.
Life changes, and this year America is giving up flying
space shuttles. We will miss them, but
there are other priorities now; maybe even greater things to do in space in the
JFK said that going onto space would “serve to organize and measure the best of our
energies and skills”.
To succeed in going
into space requires complete concentration, I can attest to that. I wonder if we can still focus our attention
in the manner that space travel requires.