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Saturday, December 17, 2016
He was voted the Most Popular Boy in his hometown of New Concord, Ohio; was awarded six Distinguished Flying Crosses as a fighter pilot in two wars; was the first American astronaut to orbit the earth; was elected three times by the people of Ohio to the U.S. Senate; and – after a 1998 flight on the Space Shuttle Discovery – became the oldest man ever to go into space.
John Glenn’s personal hero, however, was the woman to whom he was married for 73 years.
Annie Castor was Glenn’s childhood playmate and high school sweetheart. He adored her wit, her brilliance, and her courage.
But for most of her life Annie has been known primarily for something else: her struggle with a severe speech impediment.
Growing up, Annie was designated an 85%er, which meant that 85% of the time she would be functionally unable to speak aloud the words in a simple phrase.
She felt isolated from outsiders. She shrank from the simplest conversations. She would wander alone from aisle to aisle in stores looking for items on her shopping list because she was too afraid to risk asking for help.
John Glenn always protected, defended, and loved her fiercely. She dreaded being separated from him.
And Glenn was often gone. He flew 52 combat missions in World War II, followed by 90 sorties during the Korean War. Then there were dozens of high-risk flights as a test pilot in experimental aircraft, and that day in 1962 when he climbed alone into a Mercury capsule and orbited the earth three times.
Each time he parted company with her he refused to say goodbye. That would be too painful. Instead he would say, “I’m just going down to the corner to get a pack of gum.” And each time Annie would struggle to say the same three words: “Don’t be long.”
Glenn left her a special gift just before he climbed aboard Discovery at the age of 77. It was a pack of gum.
Late in life Annie entered an experimental program through which she achieved an almost complete victory over her stuttering. She became an accomplished public speaker. Her husband was her biggest fan.
On the 8th of December, John and Annie Glenn parted company one last time in this world. But they lived in the hope that there is a next world – a place where they will never again need to say goodbye.
The word “goodbye” is actually a conflation of four small English words: “God be with you.”
Over the years, “God-be-with-you” became scrunched together into the word we use most often when going separate ways.
Scripture promises that the day is coming when we will no longer need to say, “God be with you,” because God will in fact be overwhelmingly present with all of us – with all of God’s people across all generations.
Heaven, in other words, is the place where there will be no longer be a need for goodbyes.
And where all of us will be able to speak, and shout, and sing without hesitation.
And where it’s just possible that gum will never lose its flavor.