30 Cancer C / 20 July 2004 EV
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
I imagine several bazillion others will be posting about it today...but I couldn't let July 20, 2004 EV go by without noting the thirty-fifth anniversary of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins's little excursion off this mudball, and into humanity's collective dreams.
I remember that summer, 1969, so well. Our title, in fact, comes from a little folded-over mimeographed SF fanzine I got in the mail earlier that year, late spring, early summer, and can still see in memory without effort: the editor couldn't finish the ish without that exhortation, triple-exclamation points and all. Apollo eleven?, I thought, which one is elev -- Ohmigod you don't suppose this is IT, the REAL one? When we actually LAND?! It must be coming up, now, soon...!
And so it was. Shortly after my ninth grade graduation ("Class of '69," can you beat it?), shortly before I began high school. I'll never forget it, nor fail to think of it when 20 July rolls around. Come to that, it's one of a very few human events I pretty much can't think about without tears. So there.
Oddly enough, the twentieth anniversary of humanity's first walk on the moon -- impossibly, fifteen years ago, now (*sigh*) -- didn't get so much attention as I might have expected. Wonderfully, however, it did mark the release of one of my favorite films: For All Mankind, a documentary on all of the Apollo moonflights lovingly culled together from many thousands of hours of 16mm film shot by the astronauts themselves over the course of the Apollo program, and presented with their own narrated memories. Director Al Reinert (who also scripted the theatrical release Apollo 13 and two episodes of HBO's From the Earth to the Moon, which are swell, but Ain't nothin' like tha real thang, bay-bay) notes that the Apollo program itself was the longest and most expensive endeavor in human history...that wasn't a war.
I like that observation.
The film itself beggars description. I saw it at the Crest Theatre in Westwood, after its beautiful redesign (still on view) featuring an idealized, thirties-ish L.A. night sky; saw it with my late wife Cheryl at my side (she being the other space-travel fan in the family), and it's another of my most vivid experiences -- seeing that film, I mean. Cheryl died after a twenty-year fight with cancer, in September 2001, so I'm sure that has something to do with the tears, as well; so there, too. But that screening of For All Mankind was when I first realized so many things: maybe chiefly, how vivid the past could be made, and how in danger that past was of being lost. The people who decide what you see and hear would on the whole prefer that you have stilted cartoons where the Sixties and Seventies used to be. Al Reinert decided to show you what a piece of that time was really like. And he did it, he really did, in perfectly breathtaking ways. I sat there in that theatre, clutching Cheryl's hand, and was simultaneously fourteen years old again: running back and forth from the fuzzy black and white TV pictures of men walking on the moon, to the moon itself, floating outside above our apartment's central courtyard: just trying to get my mind around it.
There? On TV? That's the surface of the moon. There? In the sky? That's the moon, and there are currently people on it.
I felt a similar breathlessness when looking at Mars pictures, in recent weeks: OMG, that's the surface of Mars. But this was the moon, you could look right at it with the naked eye and see it blue-white above you; or get your grandfather's World War I binoculars with the flaking leather bits and see it clearer: marked like a broken gray marble, striated and cratered, etched with deep shadow.
And though you couldn't see them, there were human beings on it. Only you could see them, however fuzzily, on the TV in your apartment, and hear reports back from Tranquility Base, because by God The Eagle had Landed. And in that year of war, Americans announced their purpose in being there: "We come in peace, for all mankind."
For once, humans got something right. You want unity? There in the depth of the fractious Sixties was unity, all right: the way I heard it, even crime itself largely stopped, all over the industrialized world, so everybody anywhere near a television could see live pictures coming back from the moon.
Anyway, that 1989 film which so transported me back to another time, also clarified my Will for me: I realized that I had to stop writing other people's books and start writing my books, preserving my (and our) history, even if that meant complicating a budding career in print. (As it turned out, it meant a lot more than that. Fortunately, I didn't know that then. :) )
So here's to Al Reinert, and Cheryl, and Armstrong-Aldrin-Collins, and the distant year of 1969. And here's to the hope of humanity making it through once again, after all, deserve it or no: getting past the current war of the stupid on the smart, the current manufactured psychotic disunity, and despite all odds making a go of it, after all.
Go, children of the gods. Go on with you, then. Go!!! :D
Love is the law, love under will.
Yours in Love and Freedom, AJ