Sunday, August 26, 2012

Of Boomer Things: "Hair" and an American Hero

          Sometimes when my past and present collide, I feel compelled to write about it.

          Long before the 24-hour news cycle with its nauseating repetition of stories,
          Long before this time when it seems people can't work together to accomplish anything,
          Long before reality television and weird people wanting to cash in on their 15 minutes of fame (unless they can string it out longer)...

          ...there was a strange time of riots on college campuses and in large cities, a war in Viet Nam and its accompanying demonstrations at home, assassinations of political leaders, the Civil Rights Movement, beehive hair styles and Afros, mini-skirts, love beads, and bell bottom pants. [I'm exhausted just describing that much of it.]

          Tonight I get to revisit that time when I see the musical "Hair" at the Corn Stock Theatre in Peoria. I'm sure it will be an amazing production since I know a few of the talented players. When I first saw "Hair" in Chicago in the late 60s, I was living the time. The players tonight have read about it in books. That's fine--education is a beautiful thing. A world of peace and love is hard to find in an increasingly technological world where face-to-face conversations are disappearing.

          Sometimes when my past and present collide, I feel compelled to remind myself that we boomers look at the past nostalgically. We hear the music of Woodstock and forget the mud and garbage; we watch the triumph of Selma and forget the horrible violence of the Civil Rights Movement.

          But every so often a memory surfaces that defies any mud or violence, and, personally, every so often that memory chips away at another piece of my generation's past.

Neil Armstrong
          This week an American hero died, a self-described "nerdy engineer" who never used his celebrity for gain, yet represented the culmination of a dream that can only happen when people work together for a common goal. 

          And it was a monumental task: 154M miles of space traversed over 60 hours in order to walk on the moon. The AP wire was humming as Mission Control in Houston followed the flight. The astronauts landed at 4:18 p.m.(Eastern time) and Neil Armstrong, age 38, stepped on the lunar surface about six hours later. Buzz Aldrin waited in the ship. Walter Cronkite, the anchor we believed, said, "Man on the moon! Whew! Boy." Words seldom escaped Walter so that was quite a quote.

          And that night, in a tiny town in west central Illinois, my husband and I were painting the living room walls in our first apartment. We had no AC and on July 20, 1969, the sweat was dripping off us in the humid Midwest summer. We stopped to watch the grainy black and white pictures, live, and, miraculously, Neil Armstrong stepped on the lunar surface millions of miles away. Some things in life fill you with such a sense of wonder and awe that just remembering them brings tears to your eyes. Such was that night forty-three years ago.

          Rest in Peace, Neil Armstrong, and thank you for bringing us a sense of hope and wonder in such a dark time. You represented the best of courage and heroism.

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