Monday, August 27, 2012

Neil Armstrong's Legacy

The recent passing of Neil Armstrong at the age of 82 has caused many of us to stop what we are doing and consider man's past and ponder its future.  This is not an obituary for the first man to have ever set foot on the Moon or any surface not called Earth.  This is simply a commentary on the significance of that momentous step in July of 1969.

The lunar landing was, for mankind, the defining moment of the twentieth century.  In a century that contained countless events that we would like to forget, Armstrong's steps onto a distant world will be forever remembered and cherished as a supreme achievement.  If ever one feels cynical about life, or is experiencing a mundane stretch in one's day to day activities, one can simply imagine the realization of the Apollo 11 mission.  It exemplifies man's desire to explore and ability to achieve.

Armstrong was often commended for his modesty, and it is easy to see why.  During the man's lifetime, no other living person could claim to have done anything more epic than he.  And yet, he did not seek the limelight, or cheapen his legacy by cashing in with some kind of car endorsement.  In fact, all other sports or film stars appear laughable in the context of what this man did.  Lebron James is tall and strong and can play basketball very well; Neil Armstrong flew to the Moon - whose accomplishments are more inspiring?

Of all the details surrounding the lunar landing, I think my personal favourite is the notion of togetherness captured in the historic spoken words and the plaque that was laid on the lunar surface.  Those words frame the event as mankind's achievement, not simply that of America.  His famous words were no doubt scripted, and I am impressed (and almost surprised) that the phrase did not include "...A giant leap for America!"

In retrospect, the lunar landing was a victory for all of humanity.  The fact that those steps were taken by an American is of little significance, particularly when we reflect on it today, one half century later.  The simple fact that it happened is proof that mankind can be good.

Unfortunately, mankind can also be ugly, committing unspeakable atrocities to one another, to other life, to our biosphere.  It is in this darker context that the example of Neil Armstrong shines the brightest.  It begs the question, "What will man's enduring legacy be?"  If, as individuals and as a collective, we can aspire to be good to one another and the environment, then maybe we can salvage our reputation as a species.

We cannot erase missteps in our history, but we can certainly single out and celebrate our successes.  If we are to turn this ship around, we need to harness the strengths of humanity.  Armstrong's fateful mission gives me hope that such a thing is possible.  Let us reflect on that giant leap for mankind by each of us making our own positive contribution.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interestingly enough, i very often refer to this moment in man's history. My quote and I use this quite often " they can put a man on the moon , but they can't give me a decent phone connection". So yes Steve I do remember and celebrate the moon landing very often.
Keep inspiring, it is a long process. Worth every minute.
A bientot