Monday, December 02, 2019
Footprints in the dust
I've been watching the third season of The Crown on Netflix. It's a bio of Great Britain's royal family. And since all of my DNA results indicate that 99 percent of my ancestry stems from England I find it interesting if not fascinating.
The episode I watched last night was about Prince Philip having a mid-life crisis around the time Neal Armstrong was walking on the moon. Prince Philip felt as though his life was meaningless compared to someone who had actually reached the moon. He felt as though by actually reaching the moon, the astronauts had been given some cosmic knowledge.
So Prince Philip, being a Royal, arranges to meet the Apollo astronauts and ask them some philosophical questions. He is seated in a room in Buckingham Palace with Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins and asks them what they discovered on the moon. They all stared blankly at him (in between cold induced sneezes) and said they were too busy following their astronaut protocols and check lists to have had time to wax philosophical about what it meant to set foot on the moon. They had simple reached the heavens, took some photos, picked up some rocks and left.
Prince Philip was a bit pissed. He realized the astronauts, although brave, were really not very deep people. They shrugged off his questions and instead wanted to know what it was like being a prince and having umpteen palaces. Then they dashed about Buckingham Palace taking snapshots with more gusto than they had on the moon.
The take away from this episode for me was that, despite appearances and expectations, people are who they are. I have also fantasized that Neal Armstrong was this amazing superhuman. He and the other astronauts had been my heroes when I was a kid watching them set foot on the moon. But everything I have studied or seen since shows that they were not much more evolved than the chimps and dogs NASA had sent into space before them.
I know this seems harsh, but the characteristics that made them great pilots also kept them from thinking about the bigger picture (i.e. what did it mean to actually set foot on another world that mankind had been gazing at since the beginning).
In retrospect, men walking on the moon didn't change anything on earth. Wars continued. Hunger and poverty got worse, not because men walked on the moon, but despite them doing so. In the grand scheme of things, people can only focus on esoteric things if they aren't dealing with the day to day struggles of living. So it is not surprising that Prince Philip had the time to philosophize about what it meant to land on the moon. He didn't have to worry about much else.
At one point in the episode, Prince Philip chastises a group of priests who are also having crisis' of faith. He tells them they need to quick sitting around talking and go out and leave their mark on the world. That would restore their faith. That was before Philip meets the astronauts who had left a pretty big mark on the world.
The thing is, most of us don't leave our mark on the world. It sounds good in principal to be remembered for something. But we all die. Being remembered doesn't change that. And eventually even the greatest person is forgotten.
So once again it comes down to the here and now that is the only thing that matters. The rest is just footprints in the dust.
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