“With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.”

1995 was a year that I’ll never forget. It was a year that changed the course of my life forever in profound ways. One major thing was getting my drivers permit and then getting in my first car accident about a month later (that stupid tree just couldn’t handle my awesome “Dukes of Hazard” maneuver). “Apollo 13” and “Braveheart”, two of my favorite movies of all time (and ones that certainly intensified my desire to pursue filmmaking) also came out that year. The most significant event and definitely the most painful was when my dad passed away suddenly from a heart attack (in February that year) the night before his 55th birthday. He was definitely the person that instilled in me a passion for storytelling. When I was super young we lived by a pretty intense river (the “white river”) and as a way to keep my older brother and I from going near it , he told us stories of “Mr. Johnson” (a character he made up), who was a murderer of children, with glowing eyes, and lived on the river’s edge looking for children (like my brother and I) to prey on. You’re probably thinking to yourself “wow, that’s pretty morbid and highly inappropriate for children” but have you read “Hansel and Gretel”, “Red Riding Hood”, or any of the “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” lately? Talk about morbid and highly inappropriate for children. The other story I remember my dad telling me when I was super young was the incredibly true story of the third attempt at landing on the moon, the story that, of course, the movie “Apollo 13” is based on. I’m assuming that you are at least familiar with the important bits of that story because if you aren’t, I would have to say, “Houston, we have a problem.”, as it’s one of the most remarkable true stories of the past 50 years. My mom told me that when it happened in 1970, my dad stayed up all night listening to updates on the radio (apparently they didn’t own a TV), so it makes sense now why he loved telling me that story so much.

The Apollo 13 astronauts right after they landed, Fred Haise, Jim Lovell, and Jack Swigart

When I went to go see the movie that summer, I knew the story very well (including all the geeky space nerd details), yet I was on the edge of my seat the whole time I was watching the film (a testament to Ron Howard’s skills as a filmmaker). The biggest details that the film offered that I didn’t know about the story were the personal stuff regarding the astronauts on board the mission, especially in regards to Jim Lovell (played by Tom Hanks). This made the story even more accessible for me than it was before, especially since I had recently dealt with the realities of losing someone dear to me, and you can see in the movie how everyone was dealing with the possibility of that happening to them. The movie for me is a testament to the importance of “not giving up when facing extreme adversity”, “using the resources and the knowledge and support of the group of people you have around you when the odds are stacked against you” (my favorite moments in the film are when they cut back to mission control and you see everyone working together to try to figure out what to do), and that “HOPE and focusing on the important things in life are key when fighting for survival”. I still can’t watch the end of the film without crying especially when you see them splash into the ocean. My mind is always blown by the fact that it’s a true story (what does that Bad Religion song say? “Sometimes truth…is stranger than fiction”, I know it’s a common phrase, but singing it makes it sound more profound).

When I watched Apollo 13 recently, a couple things stood out to me and impacted me much more than they did before. One moment is a scene where one of the NASA executives shows up, complaining about the negative consequences that this potential disaster could have on the company’s reputation. The NASA director responds, “I know, this could be the worst disaster NASA has ever faced.” Gene Kranz (played by Ed Harris), the head of mission control turns towards the director and very directly says, “With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.” I posted a video of that scene below.

What struck me about that little interaction was the confidence in which Mr. Kranz (actually Ed Harris) says it. He knew all the variables and it was at a moment when it wasn’t looking good for the astronauts, yet he still had the audacity to speak with complete conviction. He wasn’t in denial…it’s called “faith”. In my and Amy’s own journey with the odds stacked against us, we chose faith over self pity, we also chose to see this as our “finest hour” instead of our “greatest disaster”, and most importantly waited to do so when the reality of the situation finally settled in and the shock had worn off, so that it would be genuine and not just a coping mechanism. As we all know, Mr. Kranz’s statement became true, he wasn’t fooling himself or others, I think he just knew that there was someone looking out for them, and everyone affected by the disaster chose to be proactive so that failure wasn’t an option. That same thing is proving to be true in our own fight.

The other thing I noticed to be quite profound after this recent viewing was the significance of Jim (Tom Hanks) having named one of the mountain formations on the moon after his wife Marilyn. He did so on one of his previous missions where he flew around the moon. Apollo 13 was to be the first time he’d be able to actually walk on the moon (his dream since he was a kid). Later on in the film when the astronauts finally come to grips with the fact that they won’t be landing on the moon, they pass by Mt. MARILYN, and at that moment they are also “in the dark”, meaning that they had shut down all communication and power and were relying solely on the gravitational pull of the moon to slingshot them towards earth. It’s a real gamble for them, and if you watch Tom Hanks’ face in that scene you see him realize that Marilyn, “not the mountain formation”, but returning to the actual Marilyn, his wife, is the true mission and that’s what gives him the courage to keep going. Amy has always been my biggest motivation for fighting and staying hopeful and positive. After the seizure the other week I came to grips with the fact that I still have a tiny crater in my head and it’s going to take time to heal. The story of Apollo 13 came to mind right away as an example of overcoming the odds and living courageously, so I decided, as a way to remind myself and others of that outlook, to name the crater in my head. I think it would be weird to name it “Amy”, (Amy is the mission now, remember?) so I’ve decided to name it “Marilyn” instead (I can’t name it Mt. Marilyn because it’s a crater not a mountain). I know that it’s a very abstract way of thinking about all this, but I’ve always used metaphors as a way of getting through hard times (and it’s worked out very well for me). It’s also a way for me to bring my dad into a part of my recovery as it was one of his favorite stories. Once the wound is healed, it will no longer have a name, and it is my goal to get there as soon as possible, because I have to admit that I’m a little worried that naming it might result in me developing some type of dissociative disorder especially if I get too caught up in the metaphor (i.e. if I say something stupid, I could just say “That was Marilyn talking, not me”).

An MRI of my moon brain.

Much Love,

Alex

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