The gift of Apollo, 53 years later
I am aging and eroding anxiously and rapidly, but the lunar timelessness of Tranquility Base remains inviolate. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin trod across that timelessness and brought back to planet Earth the “Year Zero”, the reality of greatness within everyday American life and every American heart.
Like a Biblical prophetic yearning, the infinite space beyond beckons us: “Return, oh return unto me.” Yet like monarchic, ancient Israel, social inertia detains us by the seduction of false gods — the material, the measurable, the immediate, the edible, the sensual, the argumentative, the divisive. The glitter and the rouge of 2022 reality leaves us empty, a “sugar-smacked” society in search of routine candy rather than visionary cosmos. Yes, couched and paralyzed in fear; inured to fatalistic routine; anemic in vision; terrified of greatness and collective resolve; mired in narcissistic privileges; forgetful of history.
President Kennedy reflected at Amherst College one month before his murder that “I look forward to an America not afraid of grace and beauty.” Yet all signs scream that we are not only afraid of grace and beauty, but we now take perverted and profane outraged delight in destroying both. As President Roosevelt warned us in the rise of 1930s Nazism and fascism abroad, “The small, the weak, the delicate will be potentially trampled and utterly destroyed” by the new power emerging in the world.
Rather than taking mature pride in building handsome and balanced cities and preserving American parks and squares, we uglify our environment with a polluted abundance of LED security lighting and mis-crossed cable and wire violating the sky. We now stand so enfeebled by this American uglification that we just apathetically assume we are ugly and coarse and obese in our American spirit and continue to gluttonize and gulp down the advertised, utterly unsatisfying bitter bilge of consumerism and credit misapplied. And we teach our children and grandchildren to do likewise.
With government deadlocked and leadership self-serving and impotent, all of us seek at the minimum some amusements and recreation, hoping if only we can live fast enough, we can avoid the pangs of a violated conscience, crazed economy and betrayed morality.
Nevertheless, my friends and family, the trumpet still summons us again to stand up and declare allegiance to better, more conscionable principals. We are not too late to begin the gracious and beautiful task of throwing our trash upon the altar of a truly free conscience and beginning the awesome yet ennobling task of building a democracy safe and secure for our times. A good conscience remains within our trembling hands and hopeful hearts, ultimately our only sure reward. We need to surrender our childish and churlish choices and go with a penitent and contrite heart back, back, back to the frontier future while grasping our gentle Father’s hand and sweetly start our sand dance in that graceful and sunny space.
This course will stand out as neither easy nor plushy nor popular. We must, as Adlai Stevenson said, “Earn anew” the generational task of recovering our liberties and freedoms, not at the point of an automatic weapon or an insurrectionist appeal to profane, divisive rebellion. We American citizens must embrace our pluralistic purposes in democratic unity, and recognize that as Stevenson said in 1962, “Internal contradictions are the very fuel which makes the engine of democracy run.”
We must understand that our magnificent gift of freedom, forged in difficulty and suffering, remains the urgent destination of the day, sung by all people and repudiating the coarse and profane pseudo patriots of a confused, off-course community. We must recharge our commitment to a humane and realistically diverse America, a community of rich variety and mutual tolerance, the real land of the free and the home of the basic brave. Choose for yourselves.
Will you join me in that great historic effort? Can we forge together an America atmosphere of lovingkindness, the ancient foundation of true freedom? Can we build the house of freedom in precarious times yet still tolerantly equipped with helping hands and hearts? Let us begin.
Larry Berz of Caribou, Astronomy Educator of America, is planetarium director at the Francis Malcolm Science Center and instructor of astronomy at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics.