Monday, August 27, 2012
A Gaint Leap for Neil Armstrong
Neil Armstrong 1930-2012
The first man to set foot on the moon has died, at age 82. He died of complications from heart surgery. There has been a spontaneous outpouring of mourning for him. I think he represents a moment of greatness for the whole human race. As he himself put it, "a small step for a man...a giant leap for mankind." No one heard "a man." It sounded like he said "a small step for man and giant leap for man kind." Leaving me to wonder for years what is the difference between man and mankind? This is one of those events we can all remember exactly where we were at the time. I was at my old childhood home, in sixth grade, in the upstairs bedroom (my room) watching the event on tv with my parents and brother. My mother was reading the bible for some reason. She always read the bible when important stuff happened. She read the passage covering the creation of the mood about a dozen times, out loud. That's one of those things mothers do that drives you up the wall but you love them anyway. Like how she would go to sleep in the first five minutes of mission impossible, wake up in the last five and go "what's been happening?"
The moon landing was one of those things that only means something one time, you don't think much about it from then on but it's always important. Subsequent landings just seemed passe. I felt like it was suppose to become routine. But on the day of the first landing I felt like i had just witnessed the most important event in human history. Humanity had become a space going race. We were just about to take our place amid the Klingons and Vulcans and fulfill the destiny of Rocky Jones, Flash Gorden, and all the si fi schlock I had ever watched as a kid. I fully expected at that time that we would just continue to develop and eventually as an old man I might be living in a domed city on Mars. I was in sixth grade. Latter in high school I came to realize that our own natural anonymity and selfishness as a species would corrupt our attempts to outgrow our own parochialism. I also began to feel "if we can't solve our problems here how would we solve them up there?" I think there's a certain truth to that, involving human nature.
I think everyone sensed that something major was about to happen. I went to the nursing home to see my grandmother just a month before the landing and she was crying. I found out she was afraid because she herd that man might bring back a back form the moon that we would could not cure and it would destroy the human race. She also cried when she hear about Woodstock, she figured it signaled the end of civilization. I told her there was no air on the moon so there couldn't bein any living organisms. That calmed her down. I think that brings up the point I wanted to make about it all. One thing that struck me at that time was a combination newspaper editorial where someone talked about all the ideas of what might be found on the moon. There had been hoax in the early 20th century here someone claimed to have seen a civilization on the moon. There was a lot of talk about how no one could look at the moon anymore with the kind of feelings of mystery and romance that they once had. I was reminded of some childhood experiences of my Grandmother telling me about how people use to think about the moon when she was girl, how older people saw a Rabbit in the moon rather than a man.
earth rise from moon
Even though I never again looked at the moon with the same sense of mystery it never lost it's special nature for me. I think about that time overtime I look at it. I think about how it still means something to me. It has now become a symbol not of conquest of nature or man's achievement, although I suppose one might see it that way, but something more too complex to explain in a single sentence. It's a symbol of advancement alright. I think about that moon landing and Armstrong's words, we have taken a giant step, even though we sort of retrenched after that. It could also be seen as a failure. We started something we weren't prepared to continue and have allowed earth bound ideologies and problems to distract us. We were short sighted in thinking "we are not going to conquer the moon and build domed cities on mars in the next hundred years, so just forget it." Did we trade in progress for easy comfort? We have been living trading in the future ecologically for some time now. We have an attitude "who cares what they do four generations form now?" So have we traded in the domed city on Mars for the choice of putting off hard solutions so we can have opulence just a bit longer?
That's not all the moon symbolizes for me. If that's all it was then I would only be able to think of the moon as a bench mark of human lethargy. I also think it symbolizes something about my attitude toward belief. The moon doesn't symbolize for me the fading away of old fables, such as the hoax about seeing a civilization there through telescope, or romantic drivel, or mystery, ti symbolizes the way in which our faith in God can become aware of science and still not be threatened because our theological understanding can mature. This is one one of the major things atheists can't understand. That's becuase they insist on thinking about faith as some willful act of stupidity. They think it's an agreement with yourself to be stupid. Faith is not belief in things for no reason, it's placing confidence in a hypothesis for a reason. Just as the moon is not only a symbol of unknown mysteries but also a goal to aspire to and a bench mark of our understanding and a symbol of our will to knowledge.