A week after I watched his documentary, The Last Man on the Moon, and days after I saw the film, Hidden Figures, astronaut Gene Cernan died.
I’m having a hard time expressing the nostalgia, sadness, longing–the hiraeth I wrote about a year ago here–that I feel when I think about the space program the way it used to be. The world the way it used to be. Lost places of our past.
Now, let me give you the caveat. Those mid-century days weren’t so nice for many, especially minorities. I still shudder in horror that southern law enforcement set snarling dogs and water hoses on people. But I can only speak from my own experience: female, white, daughter of first-generation Americans. So that’s what I’ll do.
The space program was a big deal when I was a kid. A really big deal. The idea that we could send a man to the moon? It was fantastical! It was exciting! We could watch it as it happened on our TVs! We looked on every launch with wide-eyed wonder. Who didn’t know the countdown of “T minus 30 seconds and counting…”
Kids were excited about this stuff. It was thrilling.
But kids are no longer the wide-eyed innocents of my childhood. Kids today are jaded.
When was the last time you saw an eight-year-old child’s eyes widen with wonder? Do they even know about –and get excited about–missions to Mars or the space station any of the exploration we do? I just don’t see it. What I see is a “yeah, so what,” then earbuds in ears and eyes on their phones.
What we’ve lost
I think we’ve lost something big, something important in this new world of ours. Kids, and we adults, may be far more technologically savvy, but we’ve lost the excitement that came with reaching for the stars. With the idea of exploring the great unknown …. out there, not in our phones. We’ve lost the concept of possibility.
So when I watched old footage of the space program in the Cernan documentary it made me deeply sad and so nostalgic, so much so that I cried. I yearn for those days of innocence. I yearn for that world that fostered a desire to achieve things that went beyond getting rich. That world in which achievement meant something to the nation and to the individual. A time when people felt pride in bootstrapping–people like my father, a doctor, who was willing to work hard to overcome being raised by illiterate parents with siblings that didn’t go beyond the eighth grade. When little boys (and girls) wanted to grow up to be astronauts, not make violent video games.
It’s one of the reasons I cried through Hidden Figures, too. It’s not the only reason, obviously. But the film brought up that longing, my yearning for that lost world, just as the documentary did.
More than anything else, the space program, now diminished from what it once was, and all it represented, were a major part of my growing up. To me it and how we all felt about it represents all we have lost in this new world of ours.
Maybe now, at 65, I long to go back to more innocent times. Maybe I long to be a child again. I know that I wish I could do all those years over, not to change anything, but to enjoy that feeling of wonder we no longer see here in the 21st century. It’s a yearning that never leaves me.
In a past life regression a few months ago, I stood in the afterlife at the top of the stairs back down to earth, not wanting to come back, crying. My late father stood off to the side watching, and then observed, “It’s hard to be human, isn’t it, Carol.”
Yes, it is.
“Too many years have passed for me to still be the last man to have left his footprints on the Moon. I believe with all my heart that somewhere out there is a young boy or girl with indomitable will and courage who will lift that dubious distinction from my shoulders and take us back where we belong. Let us give that dream a chance.”
~Capt. Gene Cernan, RIP