July 20, 1969 – 50 years ago today – is one of my most vivid milestone moments.
I remember some events so clearly and the dates readily spring to memory. Proposing to Leah. The birth of our daughter. Accepting Christ.
But the runaway leader for events that did not really involve me was doubtlessly July 20, 1969, watching humans place the first footprints on the moon. (I watched with my Dad at his grocery store, which I recounted here four years ago.)
It was a notable achievement, for sure, completing President John F. Kennedy’s charge less than seven years earlier, but it was important to our nation’s spirit for other reasons.
We were a country in turmoil.
Almost 17,000 American servicemen died in Vietnam in 1968, the peak, and more than 11,000 more in 1969.
Protests of the unpopular war were rampant, quite notably the Nov. 15, 1969, demonstration in Washington, D.C., that drew as many as half a million people.
The nation continued dragging its feet when it came to civil rights. The Rev. Martin Luther King was assassinated the previous year. That we were divided into two not-really-equal populations was painfully obvious, even to a young white teen.
Hurricane Camille, one of the most intense tropical cyclones to hit the United States, made landfall in Mississippi on Aug. 18, devastating much of the Gulf Coast and killing 259.
On June 28, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay nightclub, providing what is considered the spark initiating the gay liberation movement in the United States.
The Charles Manson cult committed numerous murders and atrocities that captured the nation’s attention.
The day before the moon landing, a car driven by U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy crashed on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts, killing Mary Jo Kopechne.
The Beatles released Abbey Road, their final studio collaboration, and gave their last concert.
Then, at 9:56 p.m. Central time on Sunday, July 20, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong haltingly uttered as he stepped off the lunar module onto the moon’s surface, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The nation – indeed, the world – reveled in the accomplishment.
Turmoil and chaos embroil our country again in 2019.
We’re caught up in ongoing wars where we cannot see a point.
Our government has chosen to deny refugee rights to thousands fleeing persecution and has, in the face of withering criticism from countries around the globe, executed nationalistic plans that separate families, even children, and places them in prisons in an obvious effort to discourage others from seeking a better, safer life.
Civil rights remain an elusive goal as more and more stories surface of those in power denying rights to minorities, even to death.
Indeed, officials at the very top of government regularly incite racist behavior by appealing to the lowest, baseless fears of their constituents.
Global climate change continues to show itself in new ways, pushing weather to extremes and changing our future. To greatly exacerbate the problem, too many of our leaders choose to believe con-men rather than scientists.
Over the past 20 years, mass shootings in schools and houses of worship have become almost commonplace.
Personal wealth in our country has percolated to the top, enriching the rich while marooning low and middle classes in hopelessness.
Suicides and opioid addictions are wreaking havoc on American families.
Our LGBTQ communities, after winning rights and acceptance on many levels, are again being marginalized and punished for being different from those in power.
What is our moon landing now?