August 1, 2009

Open the Pod Bay Door, HAL

(Photo, copyright NASA) Last weekend the Family watched 2001: A Space Odyssey. Can someone explain this movie? Three separate scenes focus on a giant black monolith. In the final scene, an aging man lies in what looks like a quilted Barbie’s Dream House bed. The black monolith stands before him.

While I’m clueless about this movie, don’t have a giant brain, and have never been in Outer Space, I was fully able to relate to one scene.

Five astronauts are traveling to Jupiter. Three of them are in an induced coma for the long haul, and two remain awake interacting with the spaceship’s operating computer, the Hal 9000. Hal is an early form of artificial intelligence and can replicate human thought and emotion. When he learns that the astronauts are planning to disengage his electronic brain and pilot the spaceship manually, HAL kills the three comatose men. The fourth astronaut, out on a space walk, suddenly finds HAL has released him from the lifeline of the spaceship. The remaining astronaut, Dave, is left watching his colleague tumble end over end into oblivion, and Dave can do nothing.

“Open the pod bay door, HAL.” Hal refuses.

I often feel like Dave watching his colleague tumble end over end. Friends and family members are just outside my reach – tumbling in open space – and I unable to help them. This year friends and family have experienced loss, betrayal, death, unemployment, poverty, disability, loneliness, and disease.

Old folk wisdom says, “Things have a way of working out.”

Romans 8 say, “All things work for good for those who love God.”

The Reverent Mother says to Maria in The Sound of Music, “When God shuts a door, he opens a window.”

Are these meaningful to those who need help and support or just words?

Outer space, when one is tumbling in it, is probably terrifying. But as seen from the earth, space can be a vast and beautiful place. Poets and physicists have written about its beauty and the mysteries of space have mesmerized and captured human attention since Adam and Eve saw stars on their first night from the Garden of Eden.

Remember how the Earth looked from the vantage point of Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve 1968? Astronaut Frank Borman read the Genesis story about creation, and humankind had a different perspective on our globe.

I cannot speak for the pain or problems of others, but I know that my mother’s Alzheimer’s disease has brought a tremendous closeness among my family of origin, father, brother, and me. Caring for my mother, traveling with her, figuring out new ways to do things and solve problems – all of those have given us new opportunity to see the world in a different way. My father – ever hard charging in his vocation and avocation – now gently selects her clothing, cares for and puts on her jewelry, and helps her with meals. We've learned a lot and sometimes the hard way -- for example, when a person will eat anything sweet, don't leave a box of fiber bars on the kitchen table.

In my job loss this year, I have found great joy in learning to better care for my family and friends, and it has been returned a million-fold. Husband is supportive and open to my new writing ventures, and helps me think through strategies. Because he appreciates the effort in my cooking, he tolerates about one miserable failure per week. (Should chili be as molded as meatloaf? I think not.)

Unemployment has given me the gift of time with Husband, Son, Parents, and friends, and the true appreciation of that gift.

Awful change may bring new joy and unexpected opportunity. Open the new window and look into the clear blue night sky ahead and see a new world. Quoth the raven.