Saturday, June 18, 2011

Romance in the Time of Riots

                                     This image was sourced from Getty Images Worldwide.

There are few constants in the human drama, but amongst them is the need for comfort and solace in the time of great confusion and chaos.  When the world is falling down around us, we seek solace in the embrace of our loved ones.  It is our essential need to be wanted or loved.  Whether it is the unconditional furry love of a dog, or the embrace of a lover, we need that contact that tells us we are not alone.

So much of our lives are spent in dizzying pursuits.  We chase our careers and the almighty dollar, often to the neglect of ourselves and those that we love.  Love is a funny thing though.  If you ask someone why they do what they do, it is for “love”.  “I want my___ to have whatever they want or need.”  We show our affection in the form of an almost obsessive compulsion to acquire wealth, position, status.  In the end it is our pursuits that overwhelm us, and we lose ourselves in the mundane trivia of the day-to-day.

And then, chaos erupts.  Disease strikes or a natural disaster destroys, and we find ourselves looking at our “stuff”.  How many people have lost their homes, in the tornadoes that have swept America, only to find that what they were most grateful for was the safety of a child, parent, or family member; People wept openly when a pet emerged from the rubble of what had been their home.  They combed the wreckage of their town, searching for those that are lost.

This is our humanity in the raw.  The distilled essence of what we should be.  Our capacity for great good and decency spills out.  We are our truest selves in the midst of a crisis.  When we stand against all odds that is when we shine as a species.  People coming to help, not even knowing what to do, but coming across great distances, because they know that they must help these people.

Love is the power of the human mind to reach outside itself, and consider the needs of someone else above our own.  It isn’t the eroticism gawked at society, made prurient and criminal by religion, but the higher notion of being more than just an island alone, against an uncaring and unfeeling universe.  Love is the peculiar binder of two souls in the dark and vast cosmos.

Which leads to us to the image above; as absolute chaos erupts, two human beings find each other. They embrace, holding onto one another as their civilization is being torn apart. In a moment of noise and tumult, confusion verging on anarchy, they kiss.  In that kiss, they ignore all the destruction going on around them, and for a brief moment, become a universe unto themselves.  They ignore the riot police, truncheons drawn; they ignore the rioters, looting and burning; they ignore the hardness of the pavement, they ignore everything but each other.  They are in the moment.

Later there will be discussions of how and why.  Discussions of “Where is our car?” or “Did you see that cop smack that kid?”  What they will always remember, is that kiss, that fundamental expression of our humanity, in the middle of a riot.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Old Man and the Sea of Tranquility

All I can hear is my breathing…a regular in and out, echoing inside my helmet.  I’m just trying to be in the moment, breathing to relax.  Here I am, in a closet sized room, waiting to go someplace I have been wanting to go my whole life.
As a child, my family would watch the Apollo moon landing footage on our super 8 projector.  I must have made my dad rewind that film a million times.  The shadowy footage of Armstrong stepping out into the blinding sun of Mare Tranquilitatis is burned into my childhood memory lie some sort of surreal afterimage.  How many models of the Lunar Module did I build?  The space shuttle?  My life has been spent looking up at the stars through telescopes and the cockpits of planes. 
How many times did I study the lunar surface from afar, dreaming of stepping out into its magnificent desolation?  I have sacrificed so much to get here.  Time and money sure, but also family and relationships; this is a one way trip.  There is no going back.
But I’m okay with that.  Most people are consigned to a hole in the ground, or a discarded urn on someone’s shelf. I’m here, now…as alive as I have ever been.  There is a voice in my headset, “Ten seconds to vacuum, confirm seals shut and locked.”  My suit is pressurized. It is so much lighter than when I tried it on Earth side.  The green light goes red.  The hatch unlocks.
I slide the gold visor down, my heart is racing now.  The hatch dilates, and suddenly I am awash in raw sunlight.  Brighter than the brightest day, I stumble out of the modest confines of my ship.  More like a balloon inside a tinker toy frame, with rockets bolted on, it was designed to bring me here.  Another larger balloon was sent up months ago, now buried under several feet of lunar regolith (dirt to most folks) it will be my last home in this life.
I’m not really thinking about that now.  I am alive, for the time being, and I will enjoy my time here.  For a man well into his 70’s in lunar gravity I’m quite spry.  I bounce out across the surface; in one sixth earth gravity, I can really move.  The old boy still has it. Hoddy Toddy, and away we go.
I am bounding across the surface, nothing I have ever done before has felt this good.  The arthritis is still there, but it doesn’t matter.  I move with a song in my heart and a spring in my step.   I have a mile to go to the shelter, but I am making good time.  I am moving like I did when I was a kid, I’m not even winded.
I’m having so much fun, that I begin to forget where I am.  I slow down and come to a stop, just shy of a small rise.  I turn around, hopping in place.  I see my ship, sitting in the distance.  It glistens like a gold wrapped candy in the sunlight.  It was my way here, and she’ll sit in the sun now forever, her job done.  Rest in Peace baby, and thank you.
I turn back toward the “base”…that’s a formal term; it’s more like a double wide, more like “rednecks in space”.  But it’ll be home.  I look up.  The Earth, rising above the horizon.  That was home; everything and everyone I have ever known and heard of is back there.  That blue and white orb is the representation of all of humanity.  Our cradle, our home, our trap - if we don’t get going.  It’s beautiful.  Standing in the stunning sunlight of lunar day, looking back at all that I have left behind, I consider the future, and my new home.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Stars, at Night

“When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” -- Leonardo da Vinci

“I believe that we have come this far by the skin of our teeth, that we always make it just by the skin of our teeth — but that we will always make it … survive … endure. I believe that this hairless embryo with the aching, oversize brain case and the opposable thumb, this animal barely up from the apes, will endure — will endure longer than his home planet, will spread out to the other planets, to the stars, and beyond, carrying with him his honesty, his insatiable curiosity, his unlimited courage — and his noble essential decency.  This I believe with all my heart.” – Robert A. Heinlein

When was the last time that you looked up into the night’s sky?  When was the last time that you contemplated the wonder of the stars?  How many people have stopped looking up into the night?  In many of our cities, the light pollution is so bad that even if we were so inclined, the stars are obscured from our view.  Our inspiration for centuries of progress, lost in the pollution of our civilization.

In many arguments about going to the stars, many point out to the various injustices and crises here at home, saying that these should be our first duty.  The stars can wait, they say, first we need to clean up our home.  They point to the costs, saying the vast sums are best spent at home.  They point to the risks, saying that the danger is too high.

In a world of accountants and lawyers, where we have become risk adverse, frightened of ourselves, pulled by the extremes of dogma, confined by an almost universal lack of vision, we have turned away from the stars.  We look downward, inward. We have squandered our tomorrow, for the sybaritic indulgences of today. 

Not everyone moved from the Old World to the New World.  Only a few individuals made the trek out of Africa all those countless centuries and generations ago.  My own ancestors moved from Belarus and Romania at the turn of the last century, no doubt leaving behind sisters, brothers and cousins.  Not everyone is going to the stars. I won’t and unfortunately, neither will you.  Civilization is not about today, it is about tomorrow.

Why build anything at all, if we aren’t in this for the future?  If we stay here only, then our future is finite.  We will last until our resources run out, and then we will be prisoners here, as our star swells, eventually consuming us.  Or, we go out into the night, we learn and grow as we find ourselves on new worlds, eventually around new stars, we evolve. 

Do we dare to dream new dreams, to do the big things, not because they are easy or popular, but because they are our destiny?  Will we stop looking downward, counting the cracks in the pavement of our civilization, compiling the trivia into encyclopedic volumes, or start looking up…looking out into the night once more.