One thing many people ask me is did I feel close to God. The answer is no, I did not. It was not a spiritual experience for me. I didn’t feel close to God. I wasn’t searching for God. I didn’t think I needed God in my life at that stage of my life. I had about all of God that I thought I needed and that was one hour every Sunday morning. And I was a faithful attender at church. And I’d been in church all my life. I knew a lot about God.
I knew a lot about Jesus, but I really didn’t know God. And I’m not sure I can really explain that to you except as an analogy it’s like in school in the United States you study the presidents of the United States. And you know all about the presidents and all about their activities and their schedules and their office and the importance of the president and all of that. For instance, I know a lot about President Bush but if I had never met President Bush –there’s a difference between knowing President Bush and meeting President Bush and knowing *about* him. And I knew a lot about God but I really didn’t know God. I `d never sought a relationship with Jesus.
And so we were going through life on basically our own steam, and I thought I was doing a pretty good job. I was one of the twelve guys who walked on the moon. And I was a success. Everything I had touched had turned to gold — I mean, it was a success. My fighter-pilot career, my military career, my test pilot career, and now as an astronaut. And I was 36 years old when I walked on the moon, nineteen years ago. Now I’ll be 56.
And life had been –when I was 36– life had been great. At least from a success standpoint. And I had been boardsided on the moon and I had made it. And all of a sudden about a year later I got back –and we had experienced this wonderful reception when we got back, and a hero’s welcome. And, I mean, it really makes you feel proud. Man, you know — parades, the White House, the congress, and all of that stuff. It sort of makes you feel swell-headed if you will. I was sort of floating like I was back in orbit again. And I was a HERO.
And all of a sudden it hit me about a year later: What am I gonna do now? I mean I’d worked 80 hours a week to get to the moon and –it’s over. And there’s no flights and no flights to the moon and NASA said, well you can work on the space shuttle, which is this little drawing here and this little airplane. And when when they said work on space shuttle it looked about like that –I mean, we didn’t have one. We had some sketches, some drawings. And they said “You guys wait eight years, nine years and we’ll let you fly one if we build it.”
And I got bored. I mean, I was charged up. I wanted do something. And so I started thinking about what was I going to do. And I decided well, maybe what I needed to do is take my eyes off the moon and put them on money. And I was going to make money.
I made lots of money in Texas, so it was going to give me the satisfaction I was searching for. What I’m trying to say is the moon didn’t satisfy me. It was an adventure. I’d love to do it again because I like adventure, but it didn’t give me the peace and the satisfaction that I was searching for when it was over. It was OVER. And it was nice, but it over and I was now searching for something else to do.
In the eyes of the world I was a great success. But if you had been a little fly on the wall in our home you would’ve seen I wasn’t so hot as a husband and a father. And things were coming unglued, as we say in the military, at home. In fact, we got married in 1963, had a great honeymoon, and then we sort of –the wheels started coming off and our marriage started going. And within a few years we were steaming full speed towards the rocks of divorce. And I didn’t have an answer for that. When Dottie came to me and said, “Well if this is all there is to marriage I want to divorce you” , well I didn’t want a divorce. But I wanted marriage on my terms, and if she wanted to leave I’d already figured out there were a lot of good-looking women in the world, and a lot of them liked astronauts.
I thought I had it made if she decided to leave. Fortunately she didn’t, but then she came to me and said she was in real depression, and thinking about suicide. And I didn’t have an answer for that. You know, I could fix the washing machine and things like that but I couldn’t handle what she was telling me. And so things got really bad at home over the next few years and I was an absentee father –but that’s another story that I want to tell you in a minute– but Dottie wants to share a few minutes with you about what it was like to be married to a hero-astronaut.
Charlie’s given a pretty good introduction of what it was like and I probably wasn’t the only wife that was going through this difficult time. But it all started really when I was a young girl, when I was a teenager. Because I had a dream in life, and my dream in life was the dream of Cinderella. And I was going to grow up and I was going to find my Prince Charming and we were going to live happily ever after and he we going to fulfill all of my needs. And we were going have this perfect marriage of Cinderella. So when I met Charlie and he proposed to me I said, “Oh Charlie, I’m going to put you first in my life, will you put me first in your life?” And he said that he would, and so I married him and we went on the honeymoon and, as Charlie said, as soon as we got back from the honeymoon things began to get unglued. Well, it was because I realized that I wasn’t first in his life.
As soon as we came back from the honeymoon all the courting was over, all of that was over, and now he could focus on his career. And he did. And I felt really left out. And I saw that the career was more important to him than I was. And this disappointed me but I thought, “Well, I’ll get him to love me the way I want to be loved.” And so I began to court him again. And then proceeded over the next twelve years, really, to try to get him to love me the way I wanted to be loved. This is what I was looking for fulfillment in life. And so I needed this love from him. And it seemed like the harder I tried to get him to love me and just spend time with me the more he pulled away. And I began to get more and more depressed.
Of course this went over a long period of time, just to make a long story short. He became an astronaut and I thought, “Well, now once he becomes an astronaut and he goes to the moon, then we he gets back –then we’ll be able to work on our marriage and we’ll have the kind of marriage I want to have.” So I looked forward to the flight being over and I was excited for him and I was really proud of him and tried to get involved with the flight as much as I could. But I was really looking for it to be over and he comes back and I realized he hadn’t changed. He still had this workaholic impulse, he still wants other goals and other challenges, and I’m still down on the list.
And that was when I began to think of divorce. And then I thought, well maybe there’s not another man out there that really will love me the way I want to be loved. Maybe there’s no such thing as this perfect marriage. And so then I began to look to other things to find fulfillment in life –Well then, what WILL bring me happiness in life if it’s not this perfect marriage. I tried a career, because “Women’s Liberation” was telling women that you go out and you get a job and a career and this will bring you fulfillment in life. So I got a job with a travel agency and traveled a great deal. But this didn’t bring me love, not the love that I was looking for and the real purpose in life I was looking for.
I tried church work, getting involved in all the activities of the church. It was fun, it was interesting, it was worthwhile –but it didn’t bring me, again, the love and the purpose I was looking for. I tried social work. Head Start, a program in our country and a lot of working with the needy in our country. Again, it was very good work but it didn’t bring me the love that I was looking for and I became lonelier and lonelier.
I have to admit that I even tried drugs. I tried marijuana, thinking that there must be something that will bring me happiness and fulfillment in life. And of course that didn’t work either. And then I began to think, “Well then, maybe there IS no purpose in life. Maybe we just live and we die and that’s all there is. And life is so painful that I really don’t want to live any longer.” And that’s when I began to think of suicide. I’d lost all hope.
And it might seem strange to be married to a famous man and to have healthy children and to have a nice home, and to have enough money –and to be thinking that there’s no hope in life. And I didn’t see any hope, I didn’t see any purpose. And life wasn’t working out the way I thought it was going to work out.
Well, we were attending church all this time, always had been. But I’ll have to admit that my faith was very little, it really wasn’t faith at all. I’d gone to university, and I’d studied religions and I’d thought all religions were essentially the same. Jesus was no different from Mohammed, Buddha, and what we were supposed to do is just learn to love one another, and all religions were the same.
As the years went by, I began to wonder if God even existed. I’d never had any experience with God and people were telling me that we invented God because of our own weaknesses and own needs, that God was dead. So I began to believe that. Continued going to church, even teaching Sunday school and saying all the prayers –but I didn’t believe any of it.
Well, because we continued to go to church I was in church when our church had a what they called a “spiritual renewal weekend”. This was back in 1975. Well, I had never heard the words “spiritual renewal” and I really didn’t know what it meant. But we attended and so I went that weekend. What it was, is there some people that came as visitors to our church that weekend and they gave testimony, which is exactly what I’m doing tonight. Well, I had never heard a testimony before, but there testimonies were about Jesus. About that He IS different from Mohammed and Buddha, that He is the Son of God and how he had answered prayers –very specific prayers of theirs. And how He was the answer to life.
I looked at them and I did see a love and a joy in them that I didn’t have. I was very aware that I was dying inside. And so I wondered if what they were telling was the truth. Was it really true? Did Jesus really answer prayers? I never thought I had a prayer answered. But I thought, “I have tried everything else to find fulfillment and purpose in life, and I haven’t tried this.” And so I decided to try it, to try God –the way they were saying– and see if it’s really true. And it was about time to open the closed door and see if there really was a God there.
And so I prayed that weekend and my prayer was, ” God, I don’t know if you’re real. And Jesus, I don’t know if you’re the Son of God. But I’ve made a mess of my life, and I don’t want to be in charge of it any more. And I’ll give you my life if you’re real. If you’re not real, then I want to die.” Well, that was my prayer in 1975.
And I can’t say I woke up the next morning knowing God was real, and that Jesus is the Son of God. But I woke up the next morning with a commitment: I wasn’t going to look anywhere else for fulfillment in life. I wasn’t going to look to Charlie. I wasn’t going to look to career, or books on psychology. I was going to look to God, to Jesus. And so I began to pray. And I prayed like these people had told me. I prayed a very simple, specific prayer of help around the house and the prayer was answered. And I thought, well that’s just lucky. And I prayed again and another prayer was answered –that was just a coincidence. Then I prayed again and another and another and another –well, after about a month or two of answered prayers, I realized this isn’t a coincidence. That there is a God, and He’s hearing my prayers. And not only is He hearing He’s answering my prayers! And that Jesus really IS the son the God.
Well, I just couldn’t believe it, I really couldn’t believe it. Because I’d been in church all my life and now I was really finding it was all true. I was just overjoyed to find out that there’s a God, and that His name is Jesus. Because He showed His love for me on the cross by dying for me. So to feel that love, and to know I wasn’t alone anymore just gave me a new hope in life. And I began to talk to God and I talked to him about my marriage. And one of the first things He spoke to me –and I`ve never heard speak audibly but He speaks to thoughts that He puts in my mind, that are confirmed in my heart. And God began to speak to me and He said, “Dottie, you’re born again. Everything that you have done wrong in the past –all of your sins have all been forgiven and washed clean, and you’re starting life all over again brand new.”