I looked at the moon a few days ago during a pre-dawn walk with my dogs. Have you looked at the moon recently? I mean, really looked at it and wondered? This moon was not full, the kind of full moon that inspires artists and poets, lovers and dreamers. This moon was in the one-quarter phase, a mere sliver. Slivered moons rarely inspire us… we’re not fractionally motivated. We are drawn to the big picture.
I thought about the men who walked on the moon four decades earlier, the handful or so of Americans-heroes we called them-who boarded a metal container propelled by some odd mix of fuel, on a rocket so powerful it has never been used since. Many argued that sending a handful of men to traipse across the lunar surface was a monumental waste of taxpayer money. The resources could have been used to rid our streets of the ravages of poverty, could have fed the hungry thousands of times over. Fair enough. Others argued the technological breakthroughs realized through the moon program would benefit humanity for eons to come. Fair enough.
None of that mattered to this 11 year old boy, sitting cross-legged a foot away from the television screen on a Sunday afternoon in July of 1969, heart pounding with fear and anticipation. It was the stuff of fantasy, the kind of moment that awed a young imagination, confirmed what was possible, what the human mind and spirit was capable of achieving.
But on this humid morning, the air thick with fog, the dogs straining at their leashes, the slightly cynical 58-year-old man wondered if it would be possible today for America to send its best and brightest to the moon, or beyond. For it wasn’t science alone that took Neil Armstrong to his “one giant leap for mankind.” It took the courage of leadership. It took a young President with the vision and will to inspire such greatness. It took legislative compromise, a shared belief in taking risks to gain greater, long-term rewards. It took the energy of reasonable debate, of respecting another’s opinion even when disagreeing with those opinions. It took rising above petty self-interests to see the greater good. It took the ability to disengage one’s ego, to agree to disagree, but move forward nonetheless.
I looked at that sliver of moonlight and wondered if we have what it takes to send heroes to the moon today. Is the discord between us so deep, the hostility in Washington so inoperable, it would be impossible to find common ground. Do either of our presidential candidates have the vision, the audacity, the capacity to inspire us to reach for the stars? Would hope, the ability to dream collectively, be supplanted by the insidious fear and cynicism crippling our political discourse?
For a moment, seeing that sliver of light through the morning mist took me back to that Sunday afternoon in 1969, to that feeling of awe and wonder and possibility. But it was only for a moment.