Communion Of Dreams


Admiration.

Yesterday I got a note from someone who I had just met and spent some time with recently. Following that experience, they had gotten and read Communion of Dreams, and they wrote to tell me this:

I’ve finished Communion of Dreams. Sir, had I read it before I met you I feel certain that I’d have behaved differently in your presence.

* * * * * * *

I remember July 20, 1969. As I’ve noted before:

I was at a Boy Scout camp outside of St. Louis when it happened. That night, we all sat around a big firepit, and tried to watch a small black and white portable television with bad reception as Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin (Buzz) E. Aldrin, Jr. made the first human steps onto the Lunar surface and spoke these words (links to audio file on Wikipedia):

“That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”

And the world was changed forever.

* * * * * * *

Death wins. We all know this. They knew it during the early years of our space program, and there were even contingency plans in the event of the death of the crew on the Apollo 11 mission. Neil Armstrong himself thought there was only about a 90% chance of his returning from that mission, as well as only a 50/50 chance that they would successfully land on the Moon (which he always considered the most important aspect of the mission).

But it is a risk which is worth taking.

* * * * * * *

Yesterday I got a note from someone who I had just met and spent some time with recently. Following that experience, they had gotten and read Communion of Dreams, and they wrote to tell me this:

I’ve finished Communion of Dreams. Sir, had I read it before I met you I feel certain that I’d have behaved differently in your presence.

Yesterday, after finding out about Neil Armstrong’s death, I spent the rest of the day thinking about the man, reading about him.

Probably the most telling thing is how he lived his life after retiring from NASA. As has been often cited (even by me – and again I recommend the very rare interview he gave last year ), the man was remarkably self-effacing. He didn’t take credit for being the first man to set foot on the Moon. He didn’t exploit the fame which had come to him unwanted. He could have easily cashed-in on his status, reaping riches for endorsements, becoming a permanent celebrity.

Instead, he joined a small university program as a professor of Aerospace Engineering.

Endorsements (of a very limited sort) and serving on the Board of Directors for several large corporations came later. But he still kept a very low profile, trying to live his life as much like a ‘normal’ person as he could.

Can you imagine how difficult that must have been? In a world where celebrity distorts everything — where even my modest accomplishment with one self-published novel would prompt someone to react differently to me — Neil Armstrong managed to live and die without it completely warping who he was.

I honor his place in history as the first man to step foot on the Moon. But I admire him much more for who he really was. That depth of character is what made him a hero.

Godspeed, commander.

Jim Downey

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