Landing a new story
When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969, I was in Rome. An appliance store employee had thought to point a television toward the street and turn up the volume. A circle of excited Italians was gathered around me.
I didn’t speak Italian so it was only later that I heard Armstrong’s now-famous sentence: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” (The “a” in that sentence is not a misprint. Nearly forty years later, sound analysis confirmed what Armstrong always insisted he meant to say.)
Summer of 1969 was not the easiest time for young Americans to be backpacking around Europe. The War in Vietnam stirred anti-American sentiment to a high pitch. Hitchhikers who could be identified as from the US waited longer for rides. The French conveniently swept their own colonial presence in Vietnam under the political rug. German youth, weary of the long shadow of Nazism, were happy to have another target for finger pointing.
I’d had a year of political debates as a graduate student at the Université de Clermont-Ferrand. When the academic year ended, I just wanted to enjoy some carefree travel months before returning to the States. The fierce questions followed me into every youth hostel across Europe.
But not in Rome, on July 20, 1969. On that day I could wear my heritage proudly. For a short time, I could bask in the congratulations of an impressed world. I was part of a new story.
Stories. That’s how we remember major events. We set them into the context of our lives, give them personal meaning, exchange them like precious stones, ask each other, “Where were you when…?” The stories allow us to circle around a momentous happening, turn over the stones of our memories, and share our own perspectives.
That’s what Jay O’Callahan did when NASA asked him to create a story in honour of the space agency’s 50th anniversary. One of the three stories he chose for his extraordinary work, “Forged in the Stars”, is the 1969 Apollo moon landing.
Jay’s story adds a new stone to my collection. He tells the story through Neil Armstrong’s voice, recounting what it felt like to see the blue ball of Earth from the bleak landscape of the moon. He has generously shared an excerpt on YouTube.
I love the story he tells, both for its grandeur and artistry and also for its power to take me back to a street in Rome, in the summer of 1969.