I went to a going-away/retirement party last week. It was out-of-town, about an hour’s ride from my house; and it started at the ungodly hour of 7:15 am. I guess when you’re retiring it’s hard to break the habit of rising with the sun and blasting off into your day.
The night before, I checked my travel route, set my coffee pot and alarm, and went to bed early. Surprisingly, it was easy to awaken at 4:30 in the morning – a little blessing to start my day. I was out the door by 5:00 and on my way.
By 6:30 I was in place and mingling with the other guests. We shared our stories about the guest of honor. Everyone had a memory and all were choked up with the thought of the end of an era. It’s amazing the impact this old friend had on people, as evidenced by the variety of guests present. We were a motley crew – a mother with grade school children, a pilot, a few photographers, a retired man from New Hampshire, housewives and reporters – all gathered at the beach and hanging out together on the Cocoa Beach Pier. Actually, there was one more man, a surfer who came into our view as the sun began to rise. He was happy sitting on his board and riding the occasional wave, and he didn’t seem to mind sharing the water with a shark. Seriously, he either didn’t know or didn’t care and was apparently deaf to the “Shark! Shark!” cries from those on the pier. The shark didn’t mind sharing the waters either and left the man alone.
We anxiously awaited the guest of honor, who was fashionably late by seven minutes. Murmurs gave way to cheers announcing the arrival. All eyes looked north as from off in the distance he came. His head was in the clouds and then he broke through bathed by the morning light. He flew right by us like we weren’t even there but low enough to give us a good view and bid a fond farewell. I guess that’s what you do when you’re the Space Shuttle Endeavor mounted aboard a 747 heading to California and retirement.
I watched with a lump in my throat as Endeavor flew past. It was a slow-motion moment but even at that it passed all too quickly and then it was gone, and just that fast I relived five decades of the space race. My pier peers and I looked hard to the south as Endeavor headed to Patrick AFB for a final goodbye there. We didn’t want to say goodbye, but it was time. As we gazed into the heavens that chapter closed, but we know another is coming and we’ll be here ready to offer a prayer of Godspeed for the next group of astronauts.