“One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind!”
I remember the exact place I was when those words traveled through space to my black and white TV. Like so many others, I was awestruck.
Over the years, and through all our troubles, these simple words were simply shoved back in my consciousness. They always were there, just seldom recalled.
Then the one who so calmly and courageously spoke them died. When I heard the news, my mind immediately returned to the night in July of 1969, and I remembered with melancholy pride and shadowed sadness.
A great hero, a reluctant hero, an often overlooked hero, had experienced his final journey into the unknown. Neil Armstrong had traversed into the eternal and hopefully made his final “touchdown” in the place prepared for him by His Lord. But what a moment he gave all of us.
Nineteen sixty-nine was the closing year of a tumultuous decade. It was said if anyone attempted to raise young ones in the ‘60’s, they probably were driven crazy witnessing their kids going crazy. This was the decade of the sexual revolution and the advent of the “pill.” The “hippies” were “runnin’ wild, lost control” and those “funny cigarettes” seemed to be the recreation of choice.
In August of ’69, a little gathering of musicians and peace activists dubbed “Woodstock” took place with thousands singing and swaying to the “Age of Aquarius” while loving everyone within reach.
But of course, the ‘60’s also brought Americans much tragedy and pain. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy were assassinated in 1968. The Viet Nam war only worsened, and there were riots over the military draft.
Peace didn’t come until 1973. Yet in the midst of all this euphoria and agony, Neil Armstrong walked upon the moon.
In spite of all our shared pain and frustration and hopes and longings, we paused, and in awe, celebrated America and being American.
The whole world was galvanized into admiration for our nation and its courageous heroes. We truly were “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” With that one small step for man, America grew large, and with the one giant leap for mankind, all mankind rejoiced at America and its power for good.
It was a moment never to be forgotten. Annually July 16 — 20 should be national days of rejoicing.
How I long for such a hero today. Somehow even in our internal and external struggles and conflicts we didn’t seem as divided and fragmented as we appear now.
There surely were violent confrontations between opposing groups: the “peaceniks” and the “war hawks,” between the “hippies” and the “fuzz”.
Yet America still remained “one nation, indivisible,” struggling and striving for liberty and justice for all.
Page 2 of 3 - I served in the Senate of the Commonwealth of Kentucky during the ‘60’s. We surely had differences of opinion, often passionately argued, but we argued against “opponents,” never did we seek to defeat “enemies.”
Our common focus was to serve the people. Differences always were subdued beneath that common goal. How different today’s politics.
Also most of the world still admired the United States, even envied us. Some proposed a different form of government, even competing with America. Some had nuclear weapons to match ours, but fortunately through a program called “MAD” (Mutually Assured Destruction) we all kept our cool and our weapons dormant.
Few nations openly hated us. It was a time of real stress, but it was not a time of real division. So when Neil Armstrong soared into space, all eyes turned upward in anxious concerns and hopes for him and the successful completion of his mission.
When he did gently touch down on the moon, there was a worldwide sigh of relief for the man, and a great shout of joy for mankind. For a brief moment, we all truly were brothers and sisters.
Now of course, such mutual admiration, respect, celebration and unanimity of spirit seem as distant as that July night in ’69. Rigid sides seem to be drawn over every issue. From domestic politics, to foreign policy, to business, to religion, even to sports, you are either with us or against us.
There is no “middle ground,” no place to compromise, no allowance for the gray areas; everything is either black or white, my way or no way, ally or enemy. That’s why I so long for another hero like Neil Armstrong.
What follows is admittedly partisan and somewhat of a stretch, but the only man I can see that is of Armstrong’s stature is President Barack Obama. He will assuredly not unite us, but he can continue to inspire us. No man since Armstrong has ventured into such unfamiliar, challenging and hostile space as has the president. He alone ventured as a “black man” into the White House, a domicile whose name not only reflects its exterior paint, but its long history of occupants. No person has courageously faced such a cadre of bitterness, so many cross hairs of hate, and such a visceral, vicious and venomous effort to discredit and defeat him than has Obama.
Surely the ptresident’s heroics aren’t as sensational, or as spectacular or as striking as a foot step on the moon, but his walking the halls of the White House is equally as unexpected, awesome, and fraught with personal peril for himself, and even for his family. For this day and age, Barack Hussein Obama is a hero for the ages. I hope and pray we can experience his courageous leadership four more years.
Page 3 of 3 - Fr. Bob Layne is a retired Episcopal Priest living in McPherson.