Some of the most durable memories from my youth are attached to news events. One of my very first memories was the sadness in the house after JFK was assassinated. I remember watching his funeral cortege move through DC — and John-John’s salute — play on the black & white TV in our living room.
Another enduring memory is watching the Vietnam War play out every night on the TV in our kitchen during dinner.
And then there was the Moon Landing.
In July 1969, I was 10 — spending another summer at sleepaway camp in Maine (I went to an amazing place called Camp Skylemar in Naples, Maine which still exists). The landing took place in the middle of the night but Lee and Herb (the two men who owned Skylemar) set up TVs on the stage in the Rec Hall and set out the chairs as they did for shows and rallies.
My dad was a surgeon — and a plane spotter. We spent hours sitting at the ends of runways watching the planes come and go. The idea of a rocket launch was organically exciting to me. And America was enthralled with the Space Program. Each accomplishment made us genuinely proud to be Americans. We used to feel very proud! The Moon Landing didn’t open my eyes as my eyes were already open. Everyone’s eyes were open — which is why the rec hall was packed in the middle of the night despite the fact that we’d all spent another day playing sports and having a blast.
It was surreal and yet incredibly real. I remember being transfixed — wishing the TV screen were bigger. Wishing the images were clearer, the voices less garbled by the distance they’d traveled. But there were Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong — literally walking on the moon and talking about it in semi-real time.
We knew at the time that by witnessing history, we were, in a very small way, becoming part of it. Does human history actually “happen” after all if there are no humans around to witness it?
Back then, the news cycle kept “bankers’ hours”. It respected the sanctity of the weekend and dinner time. In fact, it relied on the sanctity of dinner time — because they knew they were part of it.
In retrospect, the strongest memories I have from the Moon Landing are less the images and more the way the Landing made me feel. How the Moon Landing still makes me feel. Growing up in an anti-Vietnam War house, I wasn’t a homer. My dad served in the Air Force but our values were Progressive. It is possible, you understand, to hold two conflicting points of view. It wasn’t unnatural to despise, say, Richard Nixon & his war policies (most every one of his policies) and yet feel proud of what Americans could accomplish.
It is absolutely possible to be proud of what this country has been (in brilliant flashes) in the past while feeling mortified by what it has become (especially since it’s a reflection of what it always was). Maybe it’s 50 years and some wishful thinking… I felt pride that night both as an American and as a human being. Look what we could do — we.
That’s the big takeaway all these years later — the things that teamwork could produce. The things that teamwork CAN produce. That’s teamwork spelled “DIVERSITY”.