Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Far Overhead

The date of my arrival on Earth as an individual was marked, according to Wikipedia, by "...panic overt(aking) the American public, which created an enormous sense of vulnerability regarding the United States' ability to defend its territory. Adding to this fear was the element of surprise...which left the American public in what was observed as a “wave of near-hysteria"

I wasn't responsible. Really. I wasn't.

It was this guy...

"Простейший Спутник-1"

...better known as Sputnik.

Funny, in a way; the birth of the Space Age (or at least the Space Race) the same day as my own. And here we are just over half a century later with the Space Age reduced to a sagging badly-maintained space station loafing about in high Earth orbit with no particular purpose and nothing to look forward to except obsolescence.

I hope this is not a personal commentary as well.

Congresswoman Clare Booth Luce called Sputnik's radio signal "an intercontinental outer-space raspberry to a decade of American pretensions that the American way of life was a gilt-edged guarantee of our national superiority."

No one ever described me quite so poetically.

Well, damn.

My Soviet counterpart lasted 90 days. The radio transmitter fell silent in early November when the batteries went dead. The satellite's low orbit decayed through the autumn of 1957 until on 4 JAN 58 the object re-entered Earth's atmosphere and was consumed in a fire that probably lasted no more than a few seconds.

The reentry is not reported to have been observed.And here I still am.

Little PS-1 might just have been responsible for much of the modern world. It stunned the U.S. public and jump-started much of the Fifties and Sixties science boom in my country. The Wiki entry says that Sputnik-1 "...would eventually invent the Internet, upon which this page is published, NASA, and an increase in U.S. government spending on scientific research and education. One consequence of the Sputnik shock was the perception of a "Missile Gap." This was to become a dominant issue in the 1960 Presidential campaign"

Which leads me back to last night.

As I was driving home I got to thinking.

Who am I?

What am I doing, and why?

When I was a child I dreamed like a child. Except I dreamed that I would shake the world, that I would leave a name that would echo down the years with a grandeur and a whispering, like Hulagu Khan with his pyramid of skulls.

And then I grew up into the real world.

But when I was a younger man I still had at least some pretensions to playing a part on the world's greater stage. Not inventing NASA or the Internet, perhaps, but as a soldier I was involved in events that changed the way the world wagged, for better or worse. I went places and did things that, in their small way, impacted those places and things. I had notions about the world and my ability to affect it, and those notions, while exaggerated, made me at least believe that I was changing the world and the lives of the people in it.I spent a moment yesterday reading about the people who are "occupying Wall Street". For all that I think they are a quixotic and forlorn hope they are, at least, acting out their beliefs and those beliefs - that my country is and continues to be fallen into the hands of malefactors of great wealth and that only by prying that wealth from the levers of power will there be any chance that the Lesser Breeds such as I and my family will have any chance at having a say in our own futures beyond mere random chance - while my part is to sit and read about them and then go home to my dinner.

I think about myself today; slowed, domestic, exercising myself in the public fora through nothing more than this pallid electronic medium...and contrast that with the younger man in his jump boots and aid bag.

I think about joining that group in Zucotti Park, about more; about the kind of men who fought the company thugs and the National Guards for the 40-hour week and the 8-hour day, who fought the FBI and the state troopers for civil rights, who fought the British soldiers for liberty and law.

And immediately think; but what about my family?

Who will work to pay off their mortgage, their schooling, their food? Who will help them with their homework, find their stuffed pets (my son just awoke crying that his small stuffed manatee had swum away somewhere in the bedding. At eight years old. At two in the morning. Sheesh.), who will help my bride through her transition to her next job if I am arrested, if I lose my work fighting the banksters...if I'm suddenly not there, who will be?

Thus does domesticity - and my own fears - make a coward of me.

Don't get me wrong. I've had a hell of a fucking good half-century-and-four. I've lived well and foolishly, loved badly and immoderately, sampled life here and there and liked the taste of it. I've seen the sun come up over the Red Sea and set into the mountains of Panama. I've caressed the naked skin of the woman who has borne our children, and felt the fear of violent death and the elation of its passing-by.

And I have, I hope, more yet to come; pride, and passion, the work of helping my children to grow strong and good, in fighting (still...) in what ways I can to make my house, my city, my nation, and my world more honorable, more equitable, more honest, and more realistic places than they might be without my mite's worth.

But I wouldn't be human, and I wouldn't be who I am, if I didn't regret not being...more than I am.That I didn't invent the Internet or pile up my pyramid of skulls no longer troubles me.

But still, in these quiet early morning hours, I can't keep myself as I sit at my darkened desk in my silent house from straining, just a bit, to hear the faint beep-beep-beep in the night sky far overhead.

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