When John F. Kennedy told my father’s generation in 1961 that an American would set foot on the moon by the end of the decade, I’m sure there was many a raised eyebrow about this pie-in-the-sky notion.
But America closed ranks and set its collective mind on the biggest peacetime project since the Panama Canal, and by July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped off the lunar module’s ladder and took that one small step for mankind onto the Moon’s surface.
Thinking about the lunar landing makes you wonder what happened to those days when our country put its collective shoulder to the wheel and got things done despite our political and spiritual differences. When did it become a giant leap for mankind for the president to step out of the Oval Office and declare war on a single target — in this case joblessness — by telling the American people we are going to defeat unemployment by the end of five years?
I started thinking about this after my 80-something-year-old father and I talked about his career as a mechanical contractor. Now well into his retirement, he is spending time looking back at all the schools, banks, churches and other structures he had a hand in building from Texas to Nebraska and from Colorado to the Missouri border.
All told, he built more than 60 churches and about half as many schools.
While I lamented how challenging it is to be a contract writer, he reminded me how very similar what I am doing is to what he did over his working years running a construction company. While I go from writing gig to writing gig, always looking for the next vein of commerce, he would bid on construction jobs like churches, banks and schools and fill in the down times by doing repair work in people’s homes and businesses.
Money in, money out — little has really changed over the generations in that respect.
Going to the moon had to seem like a pipe dream to dad and his peers, even as they basked in the post-World War II glow of success. And weren’t these children of the Great Depression, who had seen economic times far tougher than today’s recession, being asked to bear the cost of a program born of Cold War hubris?
And yet, we did it. We won the space race, and it launched America up the ladder of world renown.
Which makes me ask, can we Americans close ranks as a country and get things done on the employment front, just like our parents did in the Apollo days? Is the gild so far off the lily of that American spirit that we can’t work together to get our economic house back in order? Has sequestration replaced determination in our daily lexicon?
Perhaps the path is not as clear as it was in 1961. Five percent unemployment is not nearly as sexy on the 6 o’clock news as footprints on the moon. We don’t have one true nemesis like we did in the Cold War days when the Soviet Union was our boogeyman. Perhaps there is no single accomplishment like landing on the moon that can signal to the world anymore that we are top dog. There is no longer a walk-off home run to establish world dominance.
Maybe it’s time for us think less about going to the moon and more about taking care of each other in these tough economic times. JFK promised us the moon, but he also told us to “ask not what our country can do for you, but what you can do for our country.”
It’s time to take that giant leap — to work together — to get everyone back to work and our economic house back in order.
Photo credit: Greg Peters