20 July 2009

Never a Small Step

"The day", to my grandparents's generation, was December 7th.

To my parents', it was November 22.

To me, and to my generation, "the day" is today - July 20.

I like to think that Neil Armstrong fumbled the first half of his famous quote because the false humility stuck in his throat.

It was never a small step. It was always and only a giant leap, and everyone knew it. Armstrong knew it, because he and everyone he worked with signed up for a giant leap, and would never have settled for anything less. Kennedy knew it; he gave the call Armstrong answered. Kruschev knew it, behind all his bluster.

And I knew it, and so did all my fourth-grade friends on Robin Hill drive in Williamsville, New York. That leap defined my generation and set us on our path. The Beatles and the race to the moon were the soundtrack and the backdrop to our childhood (and Walter Cronkite, who's left us just this week, was our narrator.) Armstrong's leap, and his footprint, told us everything we needed to know about how the world worked. It told us that anything we could imagine was possible.

Fantasy and Science Fiction are one section at the bookstore, but they're not the same. Fantasy is the fiction of what can never be; science fiction is the fiction of what has not been yet. The generation of kids before me read fantasy - Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. We read science fiction; Asimov and Bradbury and Clarke and the others. And we watched Star Trek.

NBC cancelled Star Trek just two months before Armstrong took that giant leap for us all. But it was too late - all of us, we 10-year-olds, had been watching, and Armstrong had proved it could really be done.

We remembered. Gene Rodenberry gave Captain Kirk a flip phone in 1966 just as NASA was winding Gemini down and planning for Apollo and the moon. When we got to be old enough to work for companies like Motorola and Nokia, we built that flip phone (Kirk called it a "communicator"), and we gave it to you. Because, after all, that's what Armstrong would have done. And we built lots of other things too; the talking computers and giant electronic encyclopedias and autopilots and phasers we learned about by reading Amazing Science Fiction and watching Star Trek.

My kids' generation is reading fantasy again; Harry Potter. Their day is September 11. Things like that matter; still, I hope they know Armstrong leaped for them, and that if they leap, they can leave footprints too.


Blogger SugarCain said...

What delightful details you recalled, but what I really like is the way you present your thesis and wind it all the way through from childhood to the future. If I still taught English composition, my students would be reading your blog. A+

July 21, 2009 7:22 AM  
Blogger BarelyKnitTogether said...

So glad your sister led me here...I can see the skill with words runs in the family. This was beautifully written. Thank you.

July 22, 2009 8:07 AM  

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