Where were you on July 20, 1969?

As I remember, Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon before the 10 p.m. news.

The moon was in a waxing crescent phase. Our family was with relatives on the north side of Pickerel Lake, near Phelps Mill in Otter Tail County.

I mention the north side because the moon reflected off the water in a way that those who live on the north side of a lake understand. The world was as united as I can remember, as we looked at the Sea of Tranquility with a man looking back at us.

Six hours later, Buzz Aldrin joined Neil Armstrong on the moon’s surface. I was asleep by then.

Almost 28 years later, on July 19, 1997, I conducted a wedding at Jackson, Minn. for a couple who worked at Medtronic. From the reception I drove I-90 east to Rochester. My father was dying and he had received a Medtronic defibrillator that very day. As a part of the wedding, I shared my gratitude for the mission of their company.

Early the next day, I questioned a nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital because I wondered how dad could tolerate procedures. The nurse looked at me and said, “I don’t think that will be a problem.” My denial was broken. With mom, we called my brothers and sister to talk with dad because the time was short. They called.

On Sunday, July 20, 1997 – 22 years ago – my brother, Dave, was landing at the Rochester airport just as dad was leaving this life. Arriving to pick him up, I wept as he guessed that dad was gone.

It was hard, but an honor, to be at dad’s side with the woman he married in 1952 as he took his last breath. Shortly afterward, the doctor who stood with us asked if we wanted a chaplain. I thank God I said, ‘Yes.’ I thank God he offered. I will never forget her ministry of healing and care.

Our view of the universe has expanded exponentially since 1969. For me, the 50th anniversary of the moon landing was one of many “small steps” contributing to this knowledge.

President Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely was good for those of us who lived through the 1960s. It is good for today’s generation that we plan to once again land astronauts on the moon as a launching pad to Mars.

July 20 was a giant leap when I witnessed dad’s death. About three days later, our family gathered at First Lutheran in Fergus Falls to worship God and honor a life that made our world better.

Every funeral is a small step that is at the same time a giant leap. As a member of the clergy, it is an honor to serve in Jesus’ name.

I pray for clear skies on this night, when the moon will be 88 percent illuminated in the waning gibbous phase. I invite you to gaze at the Sea of Tranquility as we ponder small steps and giant leaps.

Rev. Steve Norby serves as lead pastor of Calvary Lutheran Church in Park Rapids. Thanks to MoonGiant.com for information used in this column.