On Sept. 13, Julie Elliot lead an NGAGE panel of ‘unexpected friendships’ to highlight the importance of building relationships across societal and cultural divides. My friend Harold Heie and I were invited to participate and speak on behalf of those whose friendship transcends age: There’s a 66-year gap between us; Harold was retirement age before I was born.
Harold and I have shared a church for my entire life, but our initial connection was established as a high school sophomore when I delivered a children’s sermon that Harold remembers impressing him. When the COVID-19 lockdown hit and sent our congregation into strictly virtual communication, our pastors designed a pen-pal program among members of the church to mitigate the detrimental effects of isolation. So moved by what he remembered of me as a sophomore (it had been two years since), Harold accepted our pastors’ offer on the condition they partner him with me. It’s now been another two years since we began emailing back and forth. I’m gracious for the COVID vaccine and other measures that have allowed us to meet in person for the past several months, as we can both attest that building a friendship virtually pales in comparison to being face-to-face. I look forward to our futures. I’m infinitely grateful for the things Harold has taught me so far, and excited for all the many things we have yet to cover.
Harold was born in Brooklyn in 1936 and lived in the Bay Ridge area for much of his childhood. After college he began working for NASA designing heat-protective shielding for re-entry. As was true of many young mathematicians and physicists in the 1960s, his work helped us reach the moon and return. To a receptive NGAGE audience, this earned him the unofficial and endearing title “Space Guy”. Now if you were to ask Harold, he would de-emphasize the importance of that work in his youth, perhaps even criticize the space-race era’s obsession with the technological imperative (or, the motivation to do something for the simple reason that we can). Rather, he would remind you to constantly ask ‘why?’ and let the answer drive you closer to a fulfilling and thoughtful life.
In the years since his retirement, Harold has committed himself to promoting respectful conversations among those at odds. He has focused his efforts on dissent within the Church or political arenas and his work is a hopeful testament to us living in a world so often called ‘divided’. Much of his work can be viewed on his website, “respectfulconversation.net,” and from there he can also be contacted if anyone is curious or brave enough to reach out. Together we’re working on a project that will hopefully involve the participation of Northwestern College students, but lest anything change in the blueprints before it goes public I’ll refrain from saying too much.
All of the above is the kind of wisdom and guidance to be gained from a friend unlike any other. That’s why I think everyone needs a Space Guy; someone different and alien to your own type who can look at you from an angle you cannot even see yourself from and talk to you honestly about what kind of beauty and significance you are capable of. So, get yourself a Space Guy!
As Harold often says to conclude his sometimes-wordy emails: Well now I’m just preaching.
All the best,