I was born in 1971, so I didn’t get to see Neil Armstrong announce that “the Eagle has landed” until I was nine years old. It’s funny, because this was years after the original landing on July 20, 1969, but like so many people, I remember where I was when I watch the Eagle land and Armstrong utter his famous line, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
It was a spring day, and I was sitting at my desk in Ms. Labor’s class. She was the teacher of our split 4th grade-5th grade G&T class at Hillcrest Elementary School in Catonsville, Maryland. Watching a movie was a special treat, even better than listening to Ms. Labor, with her deep alto voice, read to us from some thick novel like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Anyway, the entire class sat there, spellbound, as the black and white images celebrating science, ingenuity and bravery unwound before us. But the movie was not just about the actual landing. We were gifted kids, after all, and Ms. Labor taught us to think critically. What followed the landing on the video was the public reaction to it, and believe it or not, a significant minority of commentators dismissed the landing as a military-industrial conspiracy, hogwash or an example of man’s atheistic hubris.
Burned in my memory is this clip of this red-faced man from Dundalk, which is a working class, immigrant neighborhood that houses factories, check-cashing places and porn shops right next to Baltimore. This guy sat there, puffing on a cigar, and in this nasal accent that felt like fingers dragging on a chalkboard, he held a thick piece of steak up to the camera. It was hard to understand what he was saying because of his low-class speech patterns that reminded me of Eliza and her father from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, but the gist of it was that the government had taken video of a ribeye steak and passed it off as the moon. Kind of like Star Trek’s Enterprise, you know?
All of us were shocked by his ignorance. And from this segment of the movie, I took with me a lifelong lesson about the importance of logical thinking. As a corollary to this, I received a glimpse into the uneducated and ignorant common folks who simply could not comprehend or accept scientific achievement or the human ability to conquer the impossible. Hopefully, this sort of ignorance would go away by the time my generation was Ms. Labor’s age.
Fast-forward to yesterday. Neil Armstrong, at 82, passed away into the next frontier. To celebrate his life, I created a poster based on the Armstrong family’s wishes that we “wink at the moon” in homage to Neil, and as of the moment I’m hitting the publish button, it has been shared more than 2,500 times on Facebook. I’m happy that it’s getting shared this much; really, I am. This is the right way to grow—by celebrating heroism, scientific achievement and human greatness. And the vast majority of fans, friends and followers have responded with kindness and respect, which is how we’re taught to act when someone dies.
And while I have been cheered by the majority’s take on Armstrong’s death, a still-significant minority has reacted like this:
Sorry, but I don’t get why I should thank Neil Armstrong for the moon? That’s a rediculous [sic] statement.
I think it’s awesome that he went to the moon, but that is completely independent of appreciating the moon itself. –Ramsey R.
I didn’t respond to this statement, because it’s plain boorish, and as my Facebook Page has grown, I’ve seen more and more of this sort of ignorant and unpleasantness. Or one on the other pages that shared my poster, Bedeempled Brain, a woman named Lisa K. wrote the following:
Next time you gaze at the moon please give thanks to GOD because he created such beauty. Besides that its [sic] not true that men went to the moon. Wake up people and use your brain!
And then a woman named Kazza T. added:
Yes amen Lisa, God did make the moon and all other things seen and unseen. We can’t really be certain that they did walk on the moon. There is [sic] so much lies and deception in this world. My condolences to Mr. Armstrong’s family and friends.
At least Lisa offered her condolences to the Armstrong clan.
What’s my take on this? I always think of Alexander Hamilton’s quote, “Your people, sir, is a great beast” in times like these, but I refuse to let the minority of cranks and ignorant, uncritical thinkers, not to mention haters of the good, to ruin my happiness or steal my joy. I will not give credence to conspiracy theorists or even try to argue with their claims that we never walked on the moon. You can’t reason with fools. What I will do is to honor the greatness of one man, who acted on behalf of all humanity, one summer day so many years ago.
And tonight when I finish my long run as darkness settles on this great Earth, I will recall the following message from Armstrong’s family:
“For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”