The death of legend Michael Jackson fell near the legendary anniversary of the moon walk. Forty years ago the earth's skin ripped open with a rocket's red glare, bursting out to discover what the moon is made of. "Is it cheese?" asks Wallace (of Wallace and Gromit fame). "Is there a man up there?" asks the nursery song. We didn't know. A whole civilization could be looking down at us this entire time, eating cheese and wondering what on earth might be going on... well... on Earth.
So, we land inside the lunar cycle to see who keeps cutting it up and reassembling it each month. We step inside the myth of science fiction and stake our flag of reality. "One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind." OK, maybe, but why? Is it because we fulfilled the fantasy? Is it because we beat the Russians? Is it because we need adventure and conquest like the explorers of old? Why is it a small step and giant leap?
The nursery rhyme, as most young tales, may hold the pivotal point as to why we even bother to reach up. It seems to me that our poking into outer space demonstrates our resolution to get out of this space - to discover an escape hatch. At Shinar, early dwellers tried to drop the heavens a little lower by constructing a babelling tower and Egypt sent its dead kings into tombs meant to stab back at whatever was out there. Jacob wrestled the angel, who, I suppose, walked down the stairway from heaven, and Elijah rode his chariot into the same sky that held the clouds that Jesus would later cruise on to get out of here and up into there.
Getting to the moon helps us to define what here means and how far we have to go to get out and onto there. It's not dissimilar from boating to the New World or finding the Northwest Passage. There was strong faith that both held out not only promise but true destination, and, we hoped, true utopia (speaking about the New World). But that utopia is used up and trapped between oceans.
But up and away, like Superman, we fly into the beyond and now float our godheads - those satellites - that connect our automobiles and gadgets and phones to make sure we know our place and if we get lost. It's our prayer beamed up, not by faith, but by something we actually know will beam back (except in dead zones) and listen.
However, we still don't know where we hang in the universe or where that planet is that peers back at us with a great cloud of witnesses. We keep looking for facts that forgive our loneliness and hope for something that knows more than we know - that has knowledge about why it's so dark out there and who's behind the curtain. Perhaps we'll fly back to the moon and check it out again, or reach Mars and see if Bugs Bunny was right. One small step indeed, but let's hope our souls have wings because there seems to be a huge space between the weight of gravity and the hum of eternity.
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