They say that humans are the only animals that are aware of their own impending death. I am not certain that I believe that, but that is not the point of this entry. The fact is, most of us do not give thought to our own demise, as long as we are in good health and occupied in other pursuits. Occasionally, something happens that shakes us back to the very roots of reality – back to the stark bare knowledge of our own existence, and the (very soon), lack thereof.
I was reminded of my own mortality yesterday. Early in the day I was busy making plans to weather yet another tropical storm here in South Florida. I had made all the usual rounds: Home Depot for a tarp and roofing nails, Publix, for water, food, and batteries, the gas station for auto fuel and generator fuel – all the usual stops we usually make around here when the tropics threaten.
Later I turned to my computer and found that Neil Armstrong had died. It was then that I had a ‘death-moment’…that one or two seconds when it all becomes clear. It is then you really know that time for you will someday run out. I remember Neil Armstrong as a young man, younger than I am now. I hadn’t thought too much about him in recent years (he was a low profile guy anyway), but occasionally he turned up in the news, and when I thought of him, I always thought of the young forty something astronaut that I remember from my youth. But time has been ticking by…
If you weren’t alive on July 20, 1969, or if you were too young to remember, or if you weren’t paying attention in forth grade history class, Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon. Actually, saying that he was the first man to walk on the moon trivializes the event. He was the first human being to plant a foot on anything in the Universe that was not planet Earth. Of course, Neil did not do it by himself. He had the resources of the entire United States Government behind him. Still, in a day when making a long distance telephone call was nearly a life-event, and the internet was still a dream away, and most of us were watching television in black and white, the moon landing seems more remarkable today than it did then.
I was fourteen years old, when Neil took his first small step for mankind. I was watching the landing at my grandmother’s house, in rural Iowa, on a black-and-white RCA television – the console model with feet on the bottom and wide hardwood shelf on top for displaying pictures. The moon landing had been one of the most anticipated events of my young life up until then, and at that time it was difficult to imagine that anything could ever compare to it. Kids wanted to be astronauts because that was the future. Teachers talked about moon bases and space colonies. I recall one teacher saying to our class that by the time we had children of our own, travel between the Earth and the Moon would be commonplace.
Of course none of that has happened. Not to say we haven’t had success in cultivating near-space for our own purposes. Without satellites in orbit the communication that we enjoy today would be impossible. But as far as returning to the Moon, there is little interest. Of course there were other missions to the Moon, but it is a costly and dangerous place to travel.
So I say farewell Neil Armstrong. I cannot believe you were 82 when you passed. To me, and perhaps to a generation of other teenage kids who were watching you on that day in 1969 you will remain 39 years old forever.
Godspeed, Neil, wherever the journey takes you…we will all be along soon.