At the end of next month, I will mark ("celebrate" might be too festive a word) my 55th birthday. So I have a decent number of life experiences to look back on, and hopefully a good number yet to come. I have been lucky and unlucky, amazed and bored, mortified and thrilled. I was present at the birth of each of my children. I was, not surprisingly, present at my wedding that has so far resulted in a marriage of 25 years. I've covered a few interesting stories for newspapers and magazines.
But I have been seriously, truly, literally awestruck perhaps three times in my life, and that's probably being generous.
The one I remember most clearly was the time Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon. I was eleven years old. Armstrong was 39.
He died on Saturday, and that news, while noted, seemed to be lost among the latest anticipation of a political convention at which everyone knows who will be nominated for president of the United States, anticipation of a tropical storm headed for said convention, and the fact that a 50-year-old Roger Clemens was pitching in an independent league baseball game.
Neil Armstrong, guys. The first man to walk on the moon. Think about that.
Back in the 1970s, the comedian Robert Klein noted that Armstrong "could have set himself up for a thousand lifetimes--and his family. All he had to do was step down onto the surface of the moon and go, 'COCA-COLA!'"
Instead, he treated his fame as something of an embarrassment, and in the years after he stopped going to the moon, was rarely seen and less often heard in public. He had been given a task to perform, he had performed it successfully, and that was all there was to it.
In an era where all someone has to do to gain enormous fame is shove a toddler into the spotlight of a beauty contest on television, it might be lost that a guy who was once The Most Famous Man on the Planet did nothing to make himself incredibly wealthy as a result of his achievement. He did not show up as himself on episodes of The Big Bang Theory. He didn't endorse deodorants, sneakers, upside-down pens or Tang.
Imagine what it would be like if everyone had that ethos--athletes would retire with grace, politicians might actually take into account the service of their constituents rather than getting elected and re-elected, actors would do their best to play roles and not concern themselves with being photographed on the right red carpet.
I don't know a lot about Neil Armstrong's personal life. That's largely because he didn't want people to focus on such things as his divorce or remarriage. He was the guy who first walked on the moon. Surely that was more than enough.
One small step, indeed. Rest well, sir.
Our fond farewells to Sunday's DEAD GUY blogger Dale Spindel. You'll be missed, Dale, and we thank you for the past two years of fascinating posts. Next week, the Sunday spot will be assumed by Jessy Randall, and you're gonna love her. Stay tuned!