Michael Collins died this week.
Who? Does that name even sound familiar to you? Honestly, I had no idea who this man was. In fact, I would have guessed he was a musician.
He was an author, a father, a pilot, “space walker”, head of the National Air and Space Museum, undersecretary of the Smithsonian, a NASA contractor, and an astronaut.
In 1969, as he commanded the Apollo 11 module alone, his colleagues Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon’s surface.
While they took “one giant leap for mankind” Collins kept orbiting the Moon. Thirty times he circled the moon... alone.
Obviously, Aldrin and Armstrong could not have stepped onto that lunar surface unless Collins was doing his job — still, he has been “forgotten” by many.
Upon return the Apollo 11 crew was received as if rock stars. They rode in parades and did TV interviews. They received fan mail by the boat load.
In Collins’ 1974 autobiography, Carrying the Fire, he remembers one letter as being the “most impressive” of them all. Charles Lindbergh; the man who had made the first solo, non-stop flight across the Atlantic in 1927, wrote to him specifically.
28 July 1969
Dear Colonel Collins,
My congratulations to you on your fascinating, extraordinary, and beautifully executed mission...
Of course after you began orbiting the moon, television attention was concentrated on the actual landing and walk-out. I watched every minute of the walk-out, and certainly it was of indescribable interest. But it seems to me you had an experience of in some ways greater profundity — the hours you spent orbiting the moon alone, and with more time for contemplation.
What a fantastic experience it must have been — alone looking down on another celestial body, like a god of space! There is a quality of aloneness that those who have not experienced it cannot know — to be alone and then to return to one’s fellow men once more. You have experienced an aloneness unknown to man before. I believe you will find that it lets you think and sense with greater clarity...
My admiration and my best wishes,
Charles A. Lindbergh
What were those hours like when he was alone orbiting the moon? He obviously had a job to do but certainly he experienced some clarity about his life while spending that time alone.
None of us will fly to the moon and see the world from 238,900 miles away but we can hike to the top of Casper mountain or kayak down the Platte and find ourselves alone for a few hours. All alone. With no one to distract you, no airs to put on, no words to confuse the moment. All alone, in the quiet, we can look at our personal world and make our best decisions.
We all need to have some time alone to examine our lives. Who am I? What really matters to me? What am I supposed to be doing with this one life (even if the crowds forget my name)? What will be my legacy? Who can I love better? Where can I serve with humility (stay in spaceship)? Who do I need to forgive?
Alone is critical to clarity. But, don’t forget, together we can fly to the moon.
Larry and Linda Kloster sponsor this column.