Movie Parables: The Right Stuff
Made in the Shade
Has your world ever gotten rocked in the worst way? You wake up early one sunny morning, brew your best blend of coffee, and ease into your favorite recliner to read your Bible, the newspaper or a current bestseller. Then the phone rings unexpectedly. Who could be calling this early? You pick up the phone and the caller greets you with a bit of bad news. You stand there, not only shakened, but rudely awakened by what you just heard. Things were smooth sailing up until this point. From here on end, the rest of the day will surely spin into a downward spiral. And you only hope and pray that you are securely tethered to a lifeline that will bring you back to a safe place.
In the telling story of the mercury astronauts, the book by Tom Wolfe turned into an epic motion picture The Right Stuff, captures not only the bravery of men facing the unknown dangers of early rocket flight, but also how they and their families confront the overwhelming fame for which there is no training.
Halfway through the film, Astronaut John Glenn and his wife Annie undergo an unexpected trying ordeal. After Ground Control decide to cancel the launch due to a heavy cloud cover, John is drained. For the past five hours he has been lying on his back in the human holster of the Mercury capsule. As he makes his way back to the hanger, a delegation from National Air and Space Administration (NASA) comes trooping in to relay a message from on high.
NASA’s chief delegate confronts him saying, “John, we hate to trouble you with this, but we’re having a problem with your wife.” John asks, “My wife?” The chief delegate says, “Yes, she won’t cooperate, John. Perhaps you can give her a call. There’s a phone hook-up right here.” John asks, “A call?”
Absolutely confused, John calls Annie. Annie is inside their home in Arlington with a few of the astronaut’s wives watching the countdown and flight cancellation on television. Outside is the mob of reporters, roaming about the grounds, pushing against the door, and banging behind the windows for scraps of information about Annie’s ordeal. If John suffered the scrub of his flight due to cloudy conditions, Annie was weathering the whole storm at her front steps. She had practically no protection from it. She was petrified. Annie suffered from a serious speech impediment. So the thought of hundreds of people seeing her on television struggle with her ferocious stutter was a disaster waiting to happen.
Meanwhile, a few blocks away, in a parked limousine, waits Lyndon Johnson, Vice-President of the United States. He is irritated at NASA. So far, they’ve been unsuccessful in granting him permission to visit John’s wife. Johnson is dying to go inside the Glenn household and console Annie over the frustrating ordeal of her husband’s cancelled launch. To make this “presidential sympathy call” more memorable, Johnson decides to bring NBC-TV, CBS-TV, and ABC-TV along with him, to broadcast the touching scene to millions of American households across the country.
So there’s John, with half his nylon mesh hanging off and bi-sensor wires sprouting every which way. He’s covered with sweat, drawn, and deflated. After enduring five intensive hours above 367,000 pounds of liquid oxygen ready to explode under his back, he’s practically worn out…and the chief delegation of NASA has one thing on their mind—to keep Vice-President Johnson happy.
So John puts a call to Annie and tells her, “Look, if you don’t want the Vice-President or the TV networks or anybody else to come into the house, then as far as I’m concerned, they are not coming in—and I will back you up all the way, one hundred percent, and you can tell them that. I don’t want Johnson or any of the rest of them to put so much as one toe inside our house!”
That was all Annie needed. Though the hostile world outside, threatened to huff and puff and blow her house down, Annie stood her ground and slammed the door shut. Her home was once again a safe place. It was safe from the maddening mob of reporters, safe from the bullying barrage of TV networks, and safe from the ranting rage of a Vice-President whose furious yell was broadcast across half the neighborhood. John’s zeal in protecting his wife from the media-hungry wolves affirmed Annie’s specialness in his own eyes and the eyes of the public. I would like to believe that her husband’s reassuring voice restored her personal passion for life as she enjoined him to face the challenges that awaited them with a new resolve.
The emotionally electrifying ordeal that confronted John and Annie Glenn provides us a powerful picture about lives in intimate touch with each other. Sometimes we find ourselves caught up in the midst of an unstable and hostile world, alone, vulnerable, and like Annie, petrified. We come to crave the safe place, to seek a refuge where we can pick-up the pieces of our broken lives; a place of intimacy where we can restore our strength, realign our bearings, and resume again.
The psalmist is in intimate touch with his Maker as he sings in the midst of certain calamity, “You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress; my God in whom I trust.’ For he will deliver you from the fowler and from deadly pestilence; he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and a buckler” (Psalm 63:1-4).
Our ultimate shelter of safety or fortress of deliverance on earth is not found in a place but a Person. When our world seems like it is out of control and falling apart, no human made hideout can compare with the divine dwelling we can have in Jesus Christ. When we are bombarded from the outside, we can run for cover in our Lord and Savior. He is our Hotline in the heavenlies when the heat is on. And we are made in the shade of the Most High.
Copyright 2009, Gicky Soriano. All rights reserved.
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Tom Wolfe began The Right Stuff at a time when it was unfashionable to contemplate American heroism. Nixon had left the White House in disgrace, the nation was reeling from the catastrophe of Vietnam, and in 1979--the year the book appeared--Americans were being held hostage by Iranian militants. Yet it was exactly the anachronistic courage of his subjects that captivated Wolfe. In his foreword, he notes that as late as 1970, almost one in four career Navy pilots died in accidents. "The Right Stuff," he explains, "became a story of why men were willing-