Ichabod's Kin
A place for politics, pop culture, and social issues

Man in the Moon

The death of Walter Cronkite sent the nation into
grieving, and reminded us of all the nation’s crises,
and successes, that he walked us through, including
the astounding mission to the moon.

Just before the moon landing forty years ago, I was among male graduate students who, suffering as they were from delusions of adequacy common to their breed, were quite sure that astronauts would be but “warm bodies” in such enterprises–mere  puppets of the puppeteers at Mission Control.

Whatever we knew of such endeavor then, we know much more now, albeit we understand it no more than we can understand or replicate feats of commercial or military aviation or how even small airplanes get off the ground. We are but spectators of all such derring-do, whether Wallenda walking the highwire or Knievel airborne over Snake River Canyon, but especially to the fantastic feats of space exploration.

Such are high-stakes maneuvers for which the rest of us need not apply, because we lack the dedication to prepare for it and, yes, the wherewithal mentally and physically to be bona fide qualifiers. The rest of us don’t live in such rarefied air; we are allowed an incredible margin for error to accommodate our flaws, mistakes and stupidity. We live perpetually with egg on our faces, food in our teeth, ketchup on our ties, broken heels and shoestrings, unbuckled, sometimes unzipped.

I suspect that’s why pro sports are such an attraction: a fascination with something done well and with precision, and the winners those who make the fewest mistakes. For the rest of us, nothing is decided when five o’clock comes and the whistle blows. We won’t fall to our ruin as did Wallenda, at age 73, when at last he was no match for extreme winds that knocked him 37 meters to the pavement in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

We learn now that Buzz Aldrin, one of the men on the moon, has suffered extreme depression and gone public with it in hopes of calling attention to a condition we’d rather forget unless we too are so afflicted. He’s traded in all the glory of moments past to display his own humanity–another way of walking the highwire.

Another hero in the moon saga was the one who held our hands through so many other national accomplishments–and tragedies: Walter Cronkite. It is in the nature of the human journey to soon forget, save for occasional reminders, real giants in our social consciousness who made a profound difference in how we view the world. He was not, like Copernicus, a propounder of a vast new theory of the universe, but he was an insightful reporter–and interpreter–of the meaning of celestial pursuits like the space missions.

Not long after the successful moon shot, I interviewed Zeke Segal, head of kthe CBS’Atlanta bureau, who let me listen in on that day’s conference call between Cronkite and all the regional bureau chiefs. It was a privilege to hear this master of the airwaves conduct a roundtable with such skill, precision and terseness: if all the rest of us could but carry on our banal conversations with such brevity and summation rather than the yakkity-yak to which we are victims in these times.

I thought back to when he told us that a man had landed on the lunar surface, while the networks constructed studio simulations to assist viewer understanding. Of course, the Flat Earth people soon emerged from the bowels of the earth, as they tend to do, to say it was all a put-up job and that Walter and the networks had concocted but a newer version of Orson Welles’ Invasion from Mars. So shall it always be that among humankind, descended from the arboreal apes, are those still going up the tree than down it, and will deny all signs of the times and those who interpret them, while applying their leeches of ignorance to the body social.

It took extraordinary people even to conceive of striking out for the heavens, as well as to plan the mission; and to go, or to send others, in a collaboration of science that is stranger than the strangest fiction.

It is now irrefutable history that men have been on the moon, but as long as our memories endure, how can we look Up There anymore and deny that there is a  man in the moon–and it is Walter Cronkite.

Most of us don’t, and can’t, walk highwires of accomplishment but a few among us do. And he was one, along with the astronauts and other champions of space.

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