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Does it seem like forty years ago today that man first landed on the moon? 

In spite of the passage of time, I still feel like that same girl I’ve always been, though admittedly forty years of life has toughened and hopefully wizened me up a bit.  I don’t bother trying to hide that I’m a little gray around the edges;  why pretend to be younger than I am or something that I’m not?  I’m getting old and my gray hair reminds me that I’m older today than my parents were then.  And with hindsight and my perch forty years into the future, I now see that my parents were not so very old or uncool after all.  Like most middle-age, middle-class parents of the sixties, mine were simply doing their best to raise three normal children with traditional values, against an out-of-sync landscape of ‘hippies’ and happenings like Woodstock and movies like Rosemary’s Baby and Midnight Cowboy. 

Yet as man was first landing on the moon, my then not-so-old, not-so-cool parents were trying to land a parking spot in mid-town Manhattan, in order to string together a few unforgettable memories for themselves and their young family.  Much flimsier than moon rocks gathered by the astronauts, my own souvenirs of sight-seeing in New York City that day consist of three small memories.

The first:  Riding the speedy elevators amidst many ear poppings to the top of the Empire State Building, where hanging out with the clouds, we swayed with the building as we looked down in wonder on the streetscape to see taxi cabs the size of Matchbox cars and people the size of ants.  The second:  Walking the city sidewalks to find a cafeteria that served mediocre food in a family friendly fashion, that is, easy on the parent’s pocketbook and blind to lapses in their children’s table manners.  But it’s the third sight, the one of Times Square streaming with people–that will eternally mark the moon landing event into mind and make me forever thankful to my parents for taking us into the Big Apple on July 20, 1969–a Times Square that marked time for busy people who took time to look up and celebrate a message written in lights moving across a towering marquee that repeated itself over and over: “Man lands safely on the Moon.”

It’s safe to say that the men on the moon had a better view of the world than I did on the observation deck of the Empire State Building.  And it’s also safe to say, that as poor as it was, my food was better than whatever space food they had to consume that day.  But, somehow, standing in Times Square, gazing at that sign of the times, no one had the upper hand.  I felt connected to those men on the moon as I’m sure many did, even as I wondered about their safety and that of the world’s.  In a doomsday fashion, I wondered if the world would end this day?  Would we all die when the astroanauts finally stepped foot on the moon?  I don’t know where I got these dark fanciful ideas, but I do recall that it was late at night before the first step was actually taken, and that back in a New Jersey motel bed, I ended up sleeping through the entire event.   And the world went on.

Yet, did the world go on in a way that lived up to the promise shimmering within Neil Armstrong’s famous words?  Like the announcement on the Times Square marquee, Armstrong’s words were transmitted over radio signals and over and over on televisions signals to help ensure that anyone living that day could never forget them–“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”–as he took that first historic step on mankind’s behalf.   I do not question the value of technology or the inventions that grew out of our race to the moon.  Rather it’s the fact that then, like now, we are still at war–then Viet Nam, now Iraq.  All the expansion of knowledge from our space exploration has not led us toward advances in seeking and attaining peace.  We love no better now than then.  And the idealist in me cries out that if only, everyone could believe that each life is precious and sacred.  I mean really believe it.  And if only everyone could express this belief with actions and words.  Even with silly words, like that other moon saying my mother-in-law is so fond of using… “I love you to the moon and back!”

I love you to the moon and back.  Even such simple and silly words as these could lead us to take that giant leap for mankind to the shimmering Promised Land embedded in Armstrong’s words; if only they were universally held to be true.  If only.