The Millenium Falcons Among Us

Luke, “What a piece of junk.”

Han, “She’s got it where it counts kid.”

Han Solo talking to Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars.”

Making Han Solo’s space ship a beat up hot rod instead of a gleaming Ferrari was a piece of pure genius. It immediately grabbed every guy like me who had tried to turn an ancient relic into a hot rod, or a custom sports car. In high school I ran out of skill, money, and time to translate my dream into reality. But like Pharaoh’s daughter when she found Moses floating in the reed basket, I am in denial. (Sorry can’t pass up a pun.) I still have the 1939 Mercury tucked away in case I inherit a fortune; suddenly discover I am the Michelangelo of the welding torch, and the body hammer; and invent the 36-hour day.

But for people who have not dedicated a portion of their youth to car daydreams, the Millenium Falcon also strikes subliminal chords. The ship was a mechanical David against the Goliath of the Empire’s intergalactic squadrons. It had an off beat erratic personality like its captain and his hairy co-pilot Chewbacca.  I’m as prone as the next rabid fan to stand in awe at the accomplishments of world class athletes. But achievers who win my heart in any human endeavor are the Cinderella teams, the underdog winners, the Millenium Falcons who rise above their seeming disabilities.

Richard Feynman had a bright mind and a ready wit, but a certifiably less than genius intellect. Yet he earned a Ph.D. degree, was a university professor, created numerous new procedures in his field of theoretical physics, and authored books for both students and laymen. The British journal “Physics World” ranked him as one of the ten greatest physicists of all time, and in 1965 he won a Nobel Prize. I have always admired and chuckled over his humbly confident response. “To win a Nobel Prize is no big deal, but to win it with an I.Q. of 125, now that’s something.”

When I was bishop of a young adult ward (congregation) in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one of our members was Ali Abbott, a beautiful young woman who had been a high school cheerleader. She could jump, dance, and cartwheel as though she had a personal exemption from the law of gravity. Then a hereditary brain condition threatened her life. Surgery saved her life, but robbed her muscles of their memory. She began again to re-teach them how to sit, stand, and walk. At the end of our ward council meetings, of which she was a member, she would say quietly to her muscles, “Standup, lean forward, put the right foot in front, now the left one…” The cheer leader moves were gone, but not the cheer leader. She led us all to silently cheer for her.

One of my most inspirational Millenium Falcons was a fighter named Elwin Pulsipher.  A professional soldier, he survived two tours of duty in Viet Nam.  Following his retirement, he earned a doctor’s degree, and became a university administrator.  He served his church, community, the Boy Scouts, and reared a fine family. But one of his greatest acts of Millenium Falconism was writing letters of encouragement and inspiration to others.  Many people write such letters, but few do so using only their eyebrow.  That was one of only two voluntary muscles he had left after Lou Gehrig’s disease put him in an iron lung for the last seven years of his life. Wearing a special switch held to his forehead by a head band, Elwin watched as the computer screen scrolled through the letters and some punctuation marks of the alphabet. When the curser came to the letter he wanted, Elwin would raise his left eyebrow and the letter would be added to the document he was writing. After tedious hours the war stories, wisdom, and weekly counsel were compiled. Then his wife mailed the letter to his long list of friends.

I was privileged to be on the list because for a good part of those seven years I would take my guitar and sing to him cowboy songs from his days growing up in Nevada.  I told him I chose him to be my audience since I was pretty sure he would not walk out on me. He responded with the only other muscle left to him, a wisp of a smile in the left corner of his mouth.

Millenium Falcons turn their hardships into star ships.