Well, it’s that time of year again when I get to spend time with my family. Thus insuring my niece and nephew will have “weird uncle” stories to regale their own families. But I wasn’t always so lucky.
Moving here and there with new jobs and such, I’ve spent more than a few holidays alone. Even then, if I ever felt melancholy about a solo Thanksgiving or Christmas, I took solace in the fact that I was never the loneliest guy in the history of the entire human race.
Who is that, you say?
Well, in my opinion it has to be astronaut Michael Collins. He, along with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, were the crew of the first flight to land on the moon. Why is he the loneliest guy ever? Michael’s job was to orbit the moon and take Neil and Buzz back to earth once they were finished with moon stuff. You might say he was a space-Uber.
So, basically for 250,000 miles in all directions, there were only two other people around. They were 100 miles away on the surface of the moon yelling:
“Bro! We’re on the moon!”
“Babes and endorsement deals forever!”
All the while Collins was floating through space listening to elevator music piped in by Houston Control. It wouldn’t take me long to start knockin’ back a few vodka and Tang drinks if I were in that situation.
Collins’ state of isolation has been on my mind lately because it was a half-century ago this year that humanity left one of the nine planets in our solar system to set foot on another celestial object. Yes, boys and girls, back in 1969 — we had nine planets. That is until some chuckle-head astronomer decided to “unplanet” Pluto — never forget.
This was an incredibly serious endeavor, but I am wondering if there was some good-natured ribbing among the astronauts. Maybe it went something like this:
Neil and Buzz: Hey Mike, we just radioed to say were standing on the moon, what’s new with you?
Michael: Haha, very funny. You guys are getting too big for your moon pants, you know. I can turn this command module around any time I want and go home. Then, one of you guys will be the first cannibal on the moon. You know the only reason I’m up here instead of down there is I’m so lousy at rock, paper, scissors.
While the moonwalk gets all the accolades, Michael’s job, in my opinion, was nothing short of terrifying. Each of his thirty-odd orbits had to pass through the dark side of the moon, which meant no communication whatsoever. No Houston, no snarky Neil or Buzz, only the cold infinity of space to keep him company. He had all the time in the world to realize that a math nerd, who was probably stuffed in his locker during high school, had only a slide rule and a chalkboard to calculate his orbit. Screw up one way and he augers into the moon. Screw up the other way and he’s sling-shot into the next galaxy.
Another reason I bring up the moonshot has to do with current events. It wouldn’t surprise me if this holiday season shapes up to be one of the most contentious and polarizing since 1860. The mealtime rhetoric probably won’t be whether or not to secede from the Union but it might feel like it.
I suggest that when you see a temple vein throbbing or nostrils flared in animus or a chardonnay cocked and ready to hurl in a face, stand up and propose a toast. Grab your sport coat lapels like Clarence Darrow about to address a jury and strut around the room like a peacock on ladies-night, and then with all the vocal gravitas you can muster, say something like this:
“It was fifty years ago that this country was embroiled in a divisive war with no end in sight. We were experiencing egregious racial and civil unrest and Moscow was meddling in anything and everything. Yet despite all of this we pulled together as an innovative, forward-thinking and determined nation to reach across the heavens to the moon.
The crucible we call home made the whole world hold its breath as we achieved the nearly impossible. And that achievement belongs to no political party; to no race; to no religion. It is pure, unvarnished Americana.
So lift your glass to the thousands of scientists, technicians and three intrepid men that helped give a splintered nation common cause.”
Chris Austin is a former circulation director for The Beachcomber.