I’ve enjoyed the coverage these last few days revolving around the 40th anniversary of men landing and walking on the moon. If you’re in your mid-40’s, I suspect you can recall something about that special week in the otherwise tumultuous summer of 1969. You might even remember where you were when those famous words of Neil Armstrong echoed back to earth: “That’s one small step for man,” he said slowly and deliberately, “one giant leap for mankind.”
What a wave of nostalgia swept over Jean and me as we watched those grainy images again, this time with our own boys by our side. It struck me how at the time of that historic moment, I was just about the same age as they are today. How quickly the years between then and now have slipped by.
At the time, I was seven and had just two great loves of my life: football and astronomy. My affinity for space was cultivated by my dear mother, who used to get gas for the car at the Gulf station by our home in Southern California. Gulf Oil used to sponsor NBC’s coverage of the U.S. space program. If you bought enough gas, customers could claim neat gifts like astronaut stickers or a lunar module model kit related to NASA’s ongoing missions.
One of my favorite giveaways was a little book about the Apollo 11 mission titled, “We Came in Peace.” Incidentally, that phrase came from the plaque our astronauts left behind on the surface of the moon. The inscription reads: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind.” I still have that book, its cover faded and pages tattered from my repeated use. It’s actually one of the few remaining treasures of my otherwise rocky childhood.
Apollo 11 touched down on the moon’s surface on Sunday, July 20th, 1969. For those of us on the West Coast, it was just past lunchtime [1:17 PM PDT], and I followed the drama as it unfolded, minute by minute. When Armstrong and Aldrin stepped out of the capsule six hours later, I’m sure I cheered along with everyone else. It was quite a moment. I don’t remember being nervous or worried, just excited and awestruck. As soon as darkness descended over our neighborhood, I ran outside and looked to the skies, hoping that maybe, just maybe, I could catch a glimpse of our newest American heroes.
In those early years of life, my fascination with the heavens never really abated. My first significant “job” came when I was 12 years old. I was paid $90 to build a greenhouse, and I spent $80 of that paycheck to buy a telescope. From my perspective, it was well worth every hard-earned dollar.
What was it about the planets and the stars and space travel that so captured my fascination? I think my young heart was tender to the wonder and majesty of God’s creation. It was all so much bigger than me, miraculous and marvelous, even incomprehensible. How could a man walk on the moon?!
Given the rapid advancement of technology these days, I’m afraid too many of us have become jaded to the “wonders” of life. You talk to your spouse on a phone a few thousand miles away; but you’re in an airport and she’s in her car and you get frustrated with a little static on the line. Come on! I’ve always liked what Albert Einstein said: “There are two ways to live; one is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is.”
My vote would be for the latter approach.
So, here’s to the wonders of this world and the sweet memories of men walking on the moon forty summers ago. I hope you’re deliberately and actively trying to instill a sense of wonder and an appreciation of life in your children. It’s the ultimate miracle, of course, that God came to earth as a little baby, yet was violently killed and then rose from the dead in glory on third day. But it’s also a miracle that I’m able to conjure up these thoughts, translate them into words and send them out all over the world in a matter of a few minutes. We live in a wondrous time.
What about you? Do you have memories of that historic day? In light of this anniversary, what thoughts are running through you mind today?