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The old diary with the cracked white vinyl cover is somewhere in my garage; this I know. I've run across it since moving here. It's not something I'd ever throw away primarily because in it I wrote about the first moon walk while it was happening.
My hope was to find that diary in time to scan my multi-page entry for July 20, 1969 and share it here in Future World.
No such luck, but I guess I've been busy. We live in strange, rapidly-evolving times with too many earthbound dangers and no moon quest to dazzle us.
Coming to grips with a time span like forty years seems like the first order of business, but it's unnerving to face head on. At first I try to reason with those memories, hold them up to the light like so many glass cat eye marbles, but instead it all comes at me achingly and at once. That one night could be refracted into a long meditation, but I'll discipline it into a cluster of fragments.
My sixteenth birthday was two months away.
Summers in my home town were always hot, and my memory of that night merges in that respect with countless others: the barest tease of coolness arriving only well after the last rays of that day’s sun. If it had been any other night and we'd wanted to cool off, we'd drive to get icy mugs of car-hop root beer, or go to the library.
On this particular night we are all at home, of course: Mama, Daddy, my sister, and me. Every person I knew would be in their homes as well, all of us excited and waiting around the curved glass screens of heavy television sets.
The room is dark. I have a can of Shasta soda half finished and warming in my hand, and we’re waiting. In his corner chair, my father has a camera ready to take pictures of the television’s images.
What first strikes me now, beyond the sharp melancholy for that all but forgotten shared sense of pride, and wonder, and endless possibility, is that we could achieve so much with so little, and what that said about us, and how that has changed. Our technology was most certainly crude by today's standards, making a mission to the moon all the more heroic, a collective effort that spoke volumes about who we were, and proof of our rich, vast sense of possibility and even grandeur.
As we sat together that hot July night, the sleeping moon of Aristotle and Shakespeare and a million children's drawings had finally been prodded, transformed into ghostly dust under an astronaut's boot, and a brilliant slice of white on countless cathode ray tubes. The jumble of ideas it seemed to suggest was intoxicating. I couldn’t shake the realization that we’d crawled out of our caves, organized our activities in such a way that it culminated in this breathtaking moment.
After the first footsteps and the moving words I'll always feel proud of, when it felt like the world would never be the same again, I slipped outside, alone. The street, usually filled with summer restlessness, was quieter than I had ever known. I looked up and stared.
Once back in the house, the images were still being transmitted. The acute joy of it made me feel inexplicably sad, and in the midst of all that, I recall wondering how many times I would recall that night in the years ahead.
By the light of the televised moon, I wrote in my diary, It is beyond belief. It still is.
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Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night
9 years ago