Who would have thought that Neil Armstrong’s death would take us back to semantics? The eleven words he uttered are not merely historic. They convey evolution. It is almost Darwinesque. And like Darwin, this was challenged. Not for the words alone, although they added to the controversy.
The doubters who believe in miracles refused to grasp such scientific miracles. On July 20, 1969, the moon did not change. The world’s perception of it did. We still look at the moon with wonder and get tantalised when it hides behind clouds. We see it in all its stages – half, full, new, eclipsed. Some of us who have read David Niven’s amazing autobiography relate it to The Moon’s a Balloon; others to Michael Jackson’s moonwalk, which may be seen as a sharp commercial idea using a scientific breakthrough.
Some of you already know that Armstrong’s quote, “That's one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind” was a slip. He omitted the “a” before man. As he admitted, “Damn I really did it. I blew the first words on the moon, didn't I?”
I disagree. We shall always cherish his words because they are about hope. Besides, it was not his private mission accomplished. He did step out of the Apollo 11 first. But just 18 minutes later, while he was walking his weightless walk, Buzz Aldrin stepped out. I am amazed how minutes can transform history. Twins are born a few minutes apart and they remain precious children to their parents. You stand in line to gain entry into places where you have paid the same amount of money and will watch the same things. An actor’s entry on stage may be delayed by the script, but it may not lessen the impact of the performance.
Who scripts historic moments? Or is it about coincidence, necessity? Do we remember what Buzz Aldrin said? I did not, so I went looking for it. His words were: “Beautiful, beautiful. Magnificent desolation.”
This is what many of us would have said. I cannot think of anything more potent than “magnificent desolation”. Couple that with “a small step” and one can feel the trepidation that finally takes the stride into “a giant leap”. The earth from space is a small orb with its own desolation, howling at the moon.
(c) Farzana Versey
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Image: Neil Armstrong. CNN