“There she is, folks, directly overhead!”
And she was…straight overhead. An orange plane the size of an average Texas mosquito and three tiny specks of dust.
Then three red, white and blue parachutes opened, and the three skydivers began their flight.
“Can you see it, Dad, right over your head?” Wendy asked Blair. He wasn’t looking up.
He strained his head upward, “Yeah, I see it!”
The three soared, crisscrossed paths, back and forth like a choreographed dance. Then the flags emerged behind their chutes; a red, white, and blue banner, a Texas Lone Star, and the Star Spangled Banner.
Their flight was something to behold.
They weren’t flying.
They were falling.
They were young and strong, and this day they had challenged gravity.
With machines built to overcome the pull of gravity for a brief time, they rise above the earth, throwing off the shackles of the dirt beneath their feet, higher, higher, until the battleship is a small toy beneath them.
And they jump out.
Without the parachutes, it would probably be a pretty exhilarating trip, but it would end very soon, and the landing wouldn’t be very graceful.
But, with the chutes, these three could manipulate the fall. Slow the pull to the earth. Pretend to fly.
And they did well, coming in banner first, Lone Star, second, and USA, third.
A guy was waiting as the American flag descended, and caught it before it touched the ground.
Because we all spend every day of our lives dealing with this gravitational pull.
You have to fight it to live, to keep from falling, or to keep something from falling on you. Or, maybe, that one misstep when, stepping off the ladder onto the roof, and the sudden realization of nothing to step on and the sudden whoosh when gravity slams you to the ground forcing all the air from your lungs and the shock of cracked ribs.
We are always thrilled when someone challenges gravity, and masters the trapeze, climbs a mountain.
But, few have beaten gravity.
Those that leave the atmosphere and fly into space…I guess you could say they beat it.
But, they discover life without gravity is kind of inconvenient. Coffee floats out of their cups, food floats off their plates, and it’s just dadgum hard to move around where you want to go.
Gravity is not good, not bad.
Gravity just is.
Blair was 28 days from his 92nd birthday.
He had served on the Battleship Texas at the end of WW2, and today was being honored with two others who had also served about this historic dreadnought.
Not many of these guys left.
Blair was sitting on his scooter. Walking has grown more and more difficult. He always has his cane, has developed a posture where his head looks down to watch for possible trip spots that would let gravity throw him to the ground. And, it takes quite a bit of effort now to just stand up.
When Mary Jane slows her walk enough for Blair to walk beside her, you can occasionally hear her say, “Blair, hold your head up…look forward, not down.”
But, it wasn’t always like this.
When he was young, and strong, he waged his own war against this constant challenging foe.
He had joined the Navy in ’44, with his best friend, Odom. They were only 17, and their dads had to give them permission to join.
When a leave was granted, the two of them left San Diego to go home to their East Texas home in Lindale.
Odom caught the mumps, Blair stayed in Lindale with him and was late getting back to San Diego.
He was in the captain’s office.
“Well, Wright, I can see two possibilities for your late arrival. You can spend some time in the brig, or….” He paused,” You can serve on the Battleship Texas.”
Blair resisted the urge to smile, and said, “I’ll take the Texas, sir.”
And, he began to build a life, raised a family, developed a character, grew in faith, and formed a reputation.
Those that meet him, love him.
The character, the family, the reputation, all remain. Gravity has no say about that.
The ceremony this day ended with a missing soldier flyover.
And then something incredible happened.
People of all ages lined up to meet the man who had built this character and reputation over the 92 years of his life. They wanted to know what he had seen, to hear whatever stories he would tell of his time 75 years ago.
He told the first young girl, “Well, I was up on the deck by myself one day, and I saw a plane approaching. Now, I didn’t know then if it was one of ours, or one of theirs. It was pulling a banner. ‘THE WAR IS OVER’. Then another plane appeared. When it got overhead, I saw the banner it was pulling, ‘WE WON!’
“All I could think about was getting back to the Sabine River in East Texas and fishing and hunting again.”
They continued to listen. Young, old, and several volunteers who were working on the restoration process, who had never met anyone before who had actually served on the ship.
One guy, a Vietnam vet, pulled his walker up alongside Blair, sat down and said, “Yeah, I was pretty country, when I went over. One night, I said, looks like we’re in for a storm. Lightning and thunder on the horizon.
My buddies looked at each other, shook their heads, and said, ‘That’s the Viet Cong!’
I learned about fear that day!”
A young man from India, Navin, was a volunteer, and he was listening to every word, asking questions, learning history from the mouth of an historian, and he was so disappointed when Blair had to leave.
There was a lightness of spirit in Blair as he rolled off the ship to meet back with the family.
I have been thinking about gravity a lot over the last week.
It is strong, but there is a power that beats it’s hold.
Our spirit can soar even as we are shackled to this earth.
I saw it in action.
My father-in-law, L.B. Wright.
Gravity has slowed him down, but it never stopped the life.
I’ve always called him Blair.
Best friend I’ve ever had.
One of the finest men I have ever known.
“But, they that wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”