The Moon is the brightest object in the night sky. It has so many meanings in our lives, our history, our folklore and myths. Yet we always see it from one side. Until the beginning of the space age, we never saw its dark side. And that dark side presents us with a whole new idea of the Moon, as so:
I love seeing familiar objects in unfamiliar ways. Here we see the battered side of the Moon. In a sense, the Moon acts as a shield for the Earth, with some asteroids getting funneled into its gravitational well and striking its surface rather than possibly colliding with the Earth. Without a large Moon near us, life on Earth may have proved more precarious, with more mass extinctions due to asteroid strikes. (I think I’m right here, based upon my own reading on our solar system, which I admit was many, many moons ago.)
Can we also see the dark side of other objects? See the familiar in strikingly unfamiliar ways? How about America? It’s not easy, because those who try to help us to see are often punished for their probing in darker places.
Who are some of these “astronomers” who seek to show us America in a new light? I’d like to mention a few names here: Daniel Ellsberg, Daniel Hale, John Kiriakou, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden. And let’s throw an Aussie in there too: Julian Assange. And an outspoken Catholic worker by the name of Dorothy Day. Or how about an anarchist like Emma Goldman. These men and women (and many others) sought to shine a probing light on some of the darker sides of American behavior, and you won’t be surprised to learn that they suffered for it.
My point here is not to focus exclusively on the dark side of America. Rather, just as it’s an incomplete picture to see the Moon from only one side and perspective, so too is it a limiting experience to see America from only one side. And that “one side” is typically the one most favorable to America, the brightest one, the least cratered one, even the romantic one.
If we seek to understand the Moon in its entirety, we must see all its sides — especially its most battered one. The same is true of America.
Last night, I got outside with my camera and took this shot of the moon.
It reminded me of one of my “genius” moments as a kid. In the playground, I recall looking up at the moon in the daytime. What is that thing, I asked myself. See, I associated the moon with the nighttime sky; I didn’t know it came out in the daytime as well. So what was that strange object in the daytime sky? Tapping into my little kid brain, I guessed I was seeing a reflection of the earth.
I don’t know when I got sorted out on this. Maybe my older brother, the amateur astronomer with the Tasco telescope, straightened me out. Still, given the way things are going on this earth of ours, we could use a smaller earth close by to escape to. I had one as a kid, if only in my imagination.
I’m still amazed that we went to the moon in 1969, more than a half century ago, and we haven’t gone further into space since. Sure, our probes have, and remarkably so, but I’m astonished that humans haven’t yet been to Mars, a difficult but achievable mission. In “2001: A Space Odyssey,” humanity was already visiting Jupiter and witnessing the birth of the star-child twenty years ago! Obviously, 2001 should have been 2101. Maybe in 80 years we’ll visit the outer planets, assuming we haven’t nuked ourselves back to the Stone Age.
For some reason, I was thinking of the movie “Planet of the Apes” yesterday and its jaw-dropping ending. In the U.S., we seem far more intent on building new nukes than exploring space. We have a mania for destruction, a mania for weapons and wars, thus the ending words of Charlton Heston in that movie were and remain all too appropriate and haunting.
I wish we had a shadow earth, an unspoiled one sitting in the sky, shining down on kids in playgrounds across the world. But we don’t, so we had better wise up and take better care of this one. Unless you want Charlton Heston cursing you out.
Is it possible the U.S. hit a peak of sorts in 1969? I know – 1969 was a Nixon year, another year of destruction in Vietnam, though the music in those days was far better than today. But I’m thinking of Apollo, as in our landing on the moon in July of 1969. Having recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, that momentous event is still on my mind, especially when I think of the old poster I had on my bedroom wall that showed the Apollo journey from earth to the moon, its various stages and maneuvers. It was all bewildering to a young boy caught up in the space program, but at least I knew my country was at the forefront of science.
In 1969 America reached the moon! We respected science. Many Americans were trying to end a disastrous war in Vietnam. People marched for civil rights, they fought for equal rights, there was a sense America’s potential was nearly limitless.
WTF in 2020? Many Americans, including our president, don’t respect science. We fire doctors for calling out quack medical cures. We put a breeder of labradoodles in charge of our Covid-19 pandemic response. Wars just go on forever with little resistance. We’re sliding backwards in rights for minorities, for women, for workers. And the space program? Moribund in the USA. We’re very much stuck on earth, an earth that is less hospitable to life than it was fifty years ago.
The years 1970-2020 has defined a half-century of American decline. Perhaps we might speak of five bad “emperors”: Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Shrub Bush, and Obama, now joined by Trump, our very own blend of Nero and Caligula. He fiddles and diddles while America burns.
Joe Biden and the establishment Democrats are hardly the answer. Even Jesus isn’t the answer unless we start taking His words about the rich (and so much else) seriously. The Jesus of my youth had no use for greed and money and material goods – He taught us our treasure was in heaven, gained by righteous living through faith while manifesting love. That sacrificial message is drowned out today by the so-called prosperity gospel, preached by ministers who are cashing in even as they tell their followers that wealth is the most legitimate form of God’s grace. Back in the Catholic church of my youth, such ideas would have been blasphemous. At my church I recall the example set by Sister Emily and Sister Jane Elizabeth – they sure weren’t living in luxury. Forgive them, sisters, they know not what they do.
Here we are, in 2020, in a land of un-truth, in a universe of alternative facts, in belief systems where money matters more than anything, where even ministers stoke conflict, and we wonder why we can’t come together and develop a clear, coherent, and coordinated response to the coronavirus crisis.
How to change this? How about letting experts lead us? You know the saying: it ain’t rocket science. But Apollo was rocket science, and so we deferred to experts, and they got us to the moon and back six times and patched together an amazing rescue of Apollo 13 when it went wrong. To beat Covid-19, we can’t listen to Trump and his band of grifters and losers. We must listen to the scientists, the doctors, and act collectively based on sound medical science. The “rocket scientists” will get us through this, together with the humanists and the selfless efforts of so many medical workers and (mostly) nameless others.
Longer term, we need to re-create our government, because it has, quite simply, betrayed most of us. Simultaneously, we need to move beyond nationalism and think and act on a global scale to save our earth. If Apollo taught us one thing, it’s the wondrous value of our own planet. The moon may be a place of magnificent desolation, but who wants to live permanently in desolation? We need global vision and action, not only to help prevent future pandemics, but also to preserve our planet as a viable biosphere for a global population projected to top ten billion people in the coming decades.
Nobody said it would be easy; yet if we stay on our current course, just about anybody can guess humanity’s fate. But if we can put a man on the moon, surely we can come together to create a better future for ourselves and our children.
The year was 1969, and this song by the Youngbloods went gold: “Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now. Right now. Right now.” It wasn’t – or shouldn’t be — just hippie dreaming. Indeed, it’s the essence of true Christianity.