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Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

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October 2nd, 2007

Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

"Remember when the whole world looked up...?"

We went to see a film yesterday.

It was all about science fiction, and fantasy, and magic.

It was true.

I was six years old when Neil Armstrong set foot on our moon, and living in a country far away from the United States. If they showed the moon landing where I was at, I certainly don't think it was live, and I for one don't remember it - and being who I am, who I became, I would have remembered it. So I never saw it, not really, not these images as set out on the screen, not the build-up to it, none of that. And yet, now, almost forty years later, I watch the crowds on the stands on launch day, I see people instinctively surging to their feet as the countdown reaches 25 seconds, I see cameras being lifted to snap the liftoff, I see people's eyes fill with tears, and I know that somehow my heart was there that day, my spirit was, because forty years later the tears still come when I see it and my heart beats hard enough to break when I watch it all.

These old men, now - men who were once young, the only human beings to have set foot on another world - they have been changed by this experience. They have - you can see it in their eyes. You can see it when the camera goes in close and you glimpse the glint of tears, or when the eyes suddenly go unfocused and you know that the man who is being filmed is seeing not the present but the distant past, or when the eyes slide away from the close-up camera because they are afraid of showing too much emotion to be safely shared. I hear it in their voices, which tremble slightly when they speak of seeing the Earth hanging there in the black nothing, when they speak of that "jewel", of the fragility of it all, when the photos they took of Earthrise above a sharply curved moon horizon are shown on the screen. One of them returned to embrace a conventional religion, Christianity, but ALL of them had looked upon the true face of God - and knew the great truth that G'Kar of Babylon 5 once wrote down - we are one. We, and the stars, and everything that we have ever seen or done or made. We are one.

They show the men stepping off the lander, and bounding up and down the lunar dunes, and driving the lunar rover at breakneck speeds down steep dusty slopes of this new worldlet, and picking up rocks for the folks back home to pore over (with voices overheard in the background where one or the other of the astronauts wanders off lugging this boulder and muttering something about this one being "a beauty"). It's heart-stopping, it's dicing with death (they showed the speech which had already been prepared and which would have been read in the event that the Armstrong/Aldrin duo had had to be abandoned on the Moon), it's awesomely beautiful and it defies understanding or comprehension, it has to, when you're hanging up there with your home planet dangling at your feet and that thing which on the surface of that planet is mild spring sunshine blasting furnace heat at you from a big ball of light in the sky - one of the astronauts said that he never complained about weather again when he returned to Earth, he was just grateful that there WAS weather. They show the stark white craters etched against a black sky, and then they cut to a fern frond trembling in the breeze or a branch full of golden autumn leaves reflected in a puddle, and then they show Mike Collins (who is a leprechaun) talking about patting the Pacific when they got back down and muttering something about "Nice ocean you have here!" and how utterly, unspeakably, completely miraculous it is to be floating there in that deep dark blue water teeming with hidden life under a bright sky flecked with white cloud - how suddenly THAT is science fiction, this fragile little oasis that we have, how we are, as one of the guys put it, truly living in the Garden of Eden compared to what the rest of the real estate out there looks like or has to offer. And, tragically, how little we apparently care.

They were changed by their encounter with the moon. They changed me. They changed, just for one brief shining moment, this world that we all share - a moment where they were greeted by people who were French, Chinese, Mexican, African, and they all said, "WE did it." Not YOU did it, not AMERICA did it, but WE. The people of Earth. The human race.

That such a moment is possible, that such a moment happened, has already changed everybody.

Several times during this film I was in tears - but I wept hardest when, at the end, the screen flashed these words at me:

"We went to the moon nine times. We never went back."

Remember when the whole world looked up?

Why are there so few of us left who still do?