Alan Shepard was not a crier.
Shepard pioneered the space program and became the first American in space in 1961. In the intervening years, he was a tough-minded trainer of astronauts.
Then came 1971. Shepard got his chance to go to the moon, golf clubs in tow. As he stood on the lunar surface, he looked across the barren landscape and saw the earth against the ebony sky.
He cried. What he experienced was “awe.”
Scientists call it the “overview effect.” It is a complicated way to say “awe.”
Too much of modern slang diminishes the value of awe. After all, if the recent Marvel comics movie and the pizza following is “awesome,” then it devalues the term.
Genuine awe overwhelms us with who we actually are. It happens when we hold a new baby or sit by the bedside of a parent passing from this life.
We need the experience of awe. Awe makes us more compassionate and kinder and able to help others we might not help.
Awe brings our lives into the right proportion. We find out how small we are and how much we need each other. Without astonishment, we miss the proper depth of life.
David lay in a dewy meadow listening to his sheep bleat. The heavens opened above him where the Milky Way painted the sky and the dark night took center stage. Stars became men, lions, and scorpions. They spoke to him with a silent voice.
When I consider your heavens,the work of your fingers,the moon and the stars,which you have set in place,what is mankind that you are mindful of them,human beings that you care for them? (Psalm 8:3-4)
However, modern life nudges out the opportunities for awe. Honking horns and devices focus our attention on the passing. No one discovers wonder scrolling through Facebook or checking email.
The busyness on earth keeps us from seeing the awe of heaven.
Today, we must slow down to see what is evident. Holding a sleeping baby takes time. We have to slow down to see the sun slowly set.
But if you take the time to experience the wonder, you find your soul grows as your own importance shrinks.
And maybe, you will cry like an astronaut.