|Memories of Apollo 11|
It is with astonishment that I realize the first (Apollo 11) moon landing was 40 years ago (!) Monday.
Like most people “over a certain age,” I remember it well. With my family I was on a plane heading for a family vacation in Hawaii. The flight’s captain came on the loudspeaker, to announce that the Eagle had made a safe landing on the moon. The entire plane erupted in cheers and clapping, and then smiling flight attendants passed around complimentary champagne for the adults and soft drinks for the children, to toast the occasion.
Even more clearly do I recall when they came back. We were still in Hawaii when they splashed down and were picked up at sea. My father rousted me up at 5 a.m. to go see them come in. He put me up on his shoulders (I was 11) and worked close enough in the crowd to see Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, three very exuberant faces, peering from the window of their quarantine unit (I think it was silver in color.) My father caught Aldrin’s eye and waved, and Aldrin gave a thumbs-up back. Neither had ever set eyes on the other, to my knowledge, before that day or since. Everyone you looked at, you could exchange grins with, because everyone spoke the same language.
Much of the country, indeed the world, was on the same page then. Celebrating, exchanging thoughts or reflections, at least shaking their heads and grinning, that July 40 years ago. A moment when everyone was together. Maybe it was easier back then, but of course you can’t glorify an era based on one event: War raged in Vietnam, a chasm yawned between youth and the Establishment, cultural unrest fomented that resulted in the Kent State killings months later, racism was just beginning to be addressed through Johnson’s early civil rights work, every day there were the millions of private and unheard tragedies, the list goes on --- Today, little has changed except names: Now it’s Iraq, not Vietnam; generations, cultures and faiths still sort out how to relate; the core issues of racism still simmer; there is still rampant economic inequality and new, divisive and unresolved social, economic and health issues. That list goes on too.
But 40 years ago, a precedent for something different was set: Humanity could collectively look beyond itself --- quite a few hundred thousand miles beyond, to be exact! --- and see. Wasn’t it an astronaut who commented about looking at Earth from space, seeing the beauty, uniqueness and potentials of that little blue “marble” in space? If we look, and it isn’t hard, perspective and answers will reflect back.
I hate to say it, but just as everyone spoke the same language in July 1969, everyone spoke a similar language on Sept 11, 2001. Odd how it takes something big outside us, to remind us that we have the spark inside us, to connect with each other?
But to continue my spacing out (literally:) -- I awoke this morning to my radio alarm, playing an NPR interview with Buzz Aldrin. I smiled at the memory of him and my father, but then my attention was caught by what Aldrin was talking about: his new autobiographical book “Magnificent Desolation,” referring to both his impression of the lunar landscape and to the post-Apollo11 life he wrestled with: Where, after all, to go from being the second man on the moon? How to reconcile a life emptied of the precise, familiar structure of preparing for the moon? What to give life purpose and meaning afterward? Apparently he struggled with discouragement and uncertainty. Then I opened the newspaper and read an article in which Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins urged exploration to Mars, to underline humanity’s need to reach new vistas, conquer new frontiers, actualize itself.
And I thought, with all the time, energy and focus – not to mention money — needed for space travel, what about reaching out to another little-understood and little-traversed frontier: within? What about reaching for new vistas of individual and collective potential, compassion, actualization, positive action? Not to mention, fixing things on this planet before we move on to the next. A lot needs to be done, and can be done.
Of course we can’t step millions of miles back in our everyday world. But taking a moment to step back figuratively, at least reflect, can bring perspective. After all, we all share a little blue marble, whether it’s in an oceanside small town or a teeming city. We have plenty of fodder for division, plenty of reasons for discouragement. And an equal plenty of potential for small steps turned into giant leaps.