While reading a recent edition of Speed News, I recognized a familiar face. As I read the story headline, my heart sank. “Jerry Kunzman to Retire from NASA.” It truly was a proverbial punch in the gut. It wasn’t until after reading the whole story that I realized Jerry wasn’t leaving NASA, but rather he was simply scaling back to his roots in NorCal where it all began and, metaphorically speaking, he was passing the torch.
Passing the torch means to relinquish responsibilities, a tradition, practice, or knowledge to another. It’s the same as it is with the Olympic flame, which symbolizes the light of spirit, knowledge and life.
Jerry Kunzman has been more like a brother and without a doubt one of the best friends I’ve ever had. Winston Churchill once said, “Meeting Franklin Roosevelt was like opening your first bottle of champagne; knowing him was like drinking it.” For me, there is no better way to describe the many years of close friendship I have enjoyed with Jerry.
We’ve shared so much together, all of which has proven to be an amazing journey. We’ve raced hard against each other — what fun that was — we’ve had too much to drink on occasion, to which I blame my Irish roots, and shared our passion for shooting, and making new friends. For years we spent countless hours, late into the night discussing numerous topics, including racing, rules, politics, sports, our future, our past, family, and intimate moments of life and death. I can even remember when he ran for Governor of California. California would be in a lot better shape had he been elected.
One discussion Jerry and I had was him telling me about a book, one I have cherished since he sent it to me, titled “Illusions” by Richard Bach. One of my favorite parts is when Bach wrote, “Each creature in its own manner clung tightly to the twigs and rocks of the river bottom, for clinging was their way of life, and resisting the current what each had learned from birth. But one creature said at last, ‘I am tired of clinging. Though I cannot see it with my eyes, I trust that the current knows where it is going. I shall let go, and let it take me where it will. Clinging, I shall die of boredom.’ The other creatures laughed and said, ‘Fool! Let go, and that current you worship will throw you tumbled and smashed across the rocks, and you will die quicker than boredom!’ But the one heeded them not, and taking a breath did let go, and at once was tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks. Yet in time, as the creature refused to cling again, the current lifted him free from the bottom, and he was bruised and hurt no more. And the creatures downstream, to whom he was a stranger, cried, ‘See a miracle! A creature like ourselves, yet he flies! See the Messiah, come to save us all!’ And the one carried in the current said, ‘I am no more Messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this journey.”
It’s this same philosophy that has made it possible for so many to fulfill dreams they never thought possible, dreams that continue being fulfilled year after year with NASA. Nobody will ever replace Jerry, but they should at least try their best to live up to his legacy. Thank you, Jerry, for teaching me to allow the current to lift me free.