Coming around the dark side of the moon, waiting to regain radio contact with Houston, and seeing, for the first time, the lush blue Earth, rising over the dead, gray lunar surface, must have been an amazing thing. If I had been one of the original astronauts making that circuit back then, I wonder if I would have waited to respond to the calls from Earth, their desperate cries to re-establish contact and make sure all were okay. I like to think I would have, but I’m not sure - not out of any malicious reason, but because the sight would just be that overwhelming.
Imagine… being sent up to the stars by one great nation for no other reason than making sure you beat another great nation to the goal. But that’s the way it’s always been, hasn’t it? Necessity may be the mother of invention, but competition is the life blood of innovation. We compete to be better than our neighbor, but eventually, that leads to something better for everyone, right? As long as we survive the initial process everyone wins. Even if we don’t, our children and their children will. And when we look back from the safe perspective of the future, we can see the wrong turns we made, the speed bumps and dead ends, but eventually we got where we needed to be.
Today, even decades and generations after that first go round, after the first “Earth Rise,” after having seen the pictures and read the stories, seeing the “Big Blue Marble,” as Sagan called it, seeing home from this distance, would certainly be awe inspiring. How amazing to know that in front of you was the cradle of the only civilization you’re ever likely to know. When you look at it from that perspective, there is no differentiation. It’s not like the maps in the classrooms or on the plastic globes down at the mall, where the imaginary lines - the always changing imaginary lines - separated the countries into discrete colors so you could easily tell one from the next. Nope, from high above, it’s all one.
We are all one.
It doesn’t feel like it though, does it? A worm’s eye view, from down on the ground, gives us the idea we’re different from each other, that we’re separate entities with separate dreams and ideas. But I don’t think we are. When we look down from the vantage point of space, of coming back from being alone on the dark side of the moon, all we see are the great masses of land which break up the huge ocean. The question is which of those brown and green and white patches are for the Jews and which for the Muslims? Which are for the blacks and the whites and the yellows and the reds? Which are for the conservatives and which for the liberals? Which for the chunky or the smooth, what about the over the roll people or those who want it hanging down the back? There are just so many ways to separate people, to divide us, that ultimately it becomes meaningless. Someone who is your mortal enemy in one division is your loyal comrade in the next. So either we are all alone or we’re all together. There’s really no in-between.
See, right now, we’re living in the future. We are living in the time promised to us by all the pulp magazines and Saturday afternoon serials long before that wonderful first trip around the backside of the moon. We may not have jet packs, but we do have instant visual communication with people half a world away. My grandparents were born in a time when seeing a motor car was a novelty and my parents suffered through walking to school, in the snow, up hill both ways, without the advantage of cell phones or iPods to keep them company. And yet, in their lifetimes we went from cars you had to crank by hand to cars that could drive themselves. We put men on the moon, and we were able to look down and see this amazing planet of ours. We carry the sum of all human knowledge in our pockets. And yet for all that, we’re still finding ways to drive a wedge between us.
We look around and see the horrors of what people do to each other in the name of progress and politics, race, religion and identity. I’d like to think that as individuals we’d all help each other out. I’d like to think that as members of the same race, biologically the same species, loved by the same god (no matter the name you use), that if one of us were in need and another were walking by, that need would be filled because that’s what we do. We help each other.
There’s an old saying: “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” To me, that seems like a great thing to do. Because even as we’re helping that “man” learn to fish, our own competitive nature ensures that we won’t want him to catch more fish than we do.
Or in a shorter amount of time.
Or with less effort.
So we both work on easier and more effective ways to catch more fish until we can all catch all the fish we need. Now, if we are the prime fish catchers for our community we won’t wish the other community any ill, but we want to improve our lot, to get the accolades, the blue ribbons. So we make ours better to beat theirs and they make theirs better to beat ours but in the end, we all eat. Because even though we’re competing, we’re still fishing in the same place, right? Still learning from what the other is doing. We assume that some competition is healthy and that healthy competition pushes all of us up. After all, a rising tide raises all boats, right?
But that’s not what’s been happening. We’re not all eating. We’re scared. We’re hiding amongst the reeds, all by ourselves, and any water coming in we’d rather divert away instead of lifting all the boats together. Our competition has become one of entrenchment instead of one of progress. We’re trying to surpass each other without letting anyone else play in our pond. We want it all which means there isn’t anything left over for anyone else. And we’re not willing to risk what we have to try something new.
And we’re certainly not willing to risk sharing what we have in case we lose something, even if it’s for the greater good.
We’ve become a world of people whose division by those ever changing lines defines and limits us instead of challenging us to do better. I think back to that rocket ship, rounding the moon and being out of contact with the Earth for just a little while. Back then, I think they would have jumped on the radio to respond, to show the whole world what they’d done and be proud of the accomplishment. They’d be proud they beat the other guys but by proving it could be done, then other people would do it and the race would continue.
Except that’s not what happened. And now, I think of what would happen today and I’m not so sure that an immediate response back to Houston would be so forthcoming. Not because the world in front of them, the “Earth Rise,” is so awe inspiring as to render the spacemen mute at the sight, not entirely, but because for the briefest of times, they would be free of the squabbles and pettiness which have overtaken the beautiful blue marble filling their vision. They would be able to see their planet and the position it fills in the universe. And they’d understand that the blackness all around was there to explore, theirs to explore, while the blackness inside the people was what was preventing them from doing so.