Late last night (25 August 2012), I received the news that Neil Armstrong has died. My usual approach when writing these memorials is to give a brief reminder of who the person was and then to express my gratitude that such a person lived. This one will be harder to write.
For one thing, who doesn’t know the name, Neil Armstrong? For one moment in 1969, the whole world stopped to watch one man do something extraordinary. There is so much to say about the man and what he did that summary feels impossible. Here’s my attempt:
Armstrong was an iconic American. During the Korean war, twice during training for the Moon landing, and during the actual event, he found himself in situations where a panicky person would have died, but he calmly went about doing his job. He spoke little and talked about himself even less. The act for which he will always be remembered was a bold push into the vast blank space on the map whose only notation was “Here be dragons.”
His family suggests that when we go out at night and see the Moon, we remember Neil Armstrong. That’s a fine sentiment, but I propose a stronger response. It’s been almost forty years since a human being stood on that body. None of us have been to Mars. None of us have left the Solar System. The list of places where we haven’t been is infinite. The best way to remember that man is to push on beyond his footprint.
Crossposted on English 301: Reading and Writing.