Last weekend I heard the sad news that Neil Armstrong died in Cincinnati, Ohio, at the age of 82. After his famous “one small step” onto the lunar surface, he almost disappeared from the public eye. And yet, upon hearing of his death, I immediately was transported back to my childhood.
I remember exactly where I was that hot, muggy Sunday evening, July 20, 1969. My family and I were on vacation, camping with another family on Wellesley Island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York. We had just arrived on Saturday after a long day of traveling, and I was bummed that I’d miss the TV coverage of the lunar landing. From an early age, I was fascinated with flight and the space program. I wanted to be a fighter pilot in grade school (that dream lasted until high school when my inner ear problem and severe motion sickness prevented me from pursuing that career).
In fifth grade, I coerced my dad into helping me build a wooden model of the lunar landing module (LEM) and a clay model of the surface of the moon where the LEM would someday land as part of my science fair project. With great attention to detail, I assembled, painted, and decaled models of the Apollo 11 command module and the LEM. So the idea of missing the lunar landing was deeply disappointing.
Upon arrival at the campground, we were informed that the activity center had one black-and-white TV that would be available for anyone wishing to watch. I remember pestering my parents to go. We crowded into that darkened community center at 10:30 p.m. and waited to watch the few moments of pixelated images from 240,000 miles away. I was just 14 years old and thought landing on the moon was a dream of science fiction novels. And there he was, Neil Armstrong, hopping down the ladder of the Lunar Module to set foot on luna firma. The first man to walk on the surface of the moon.
As I walked out of the center that night, I looked up at the moon in wide-eyed wonder like never before, with thoughts like: “There’s somebody actually standing on the moon right now! I wonder what he’s looking up and seeing?”
Neil left his footprints in the lunar dust, but he also made his mark on earth. Returning to earth as a hero, he didn’t exploit his newfound stardom for personal financial gain. Instead, he lived much of the rest of his life in relative obscurity. He was the first man to ever walk on the moon, and yet he didn’t make it all about him.
Humility is a big “footprint” to follow. Yet, it’s what the Old Testament prophet Micah stated was God’s call for every man and woman who walks the surface of this planet: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 NIV).
As I look around at the landscape of our culture reeking with entitlement, the quest for instant stardom, and reality TV personalities striving to exploit their 30 seconds of fame for some outrageous financial gain, it’s glaringly apparent—Neil Armstrong was a man of a different time. He seemed to possess humility in the presence of great achievement because he knew it wasn’t all about him. That’s the footprint Neil left on earth that I admire even more than those he left on the surface of the moon 43 years ago.
Please join me in sharing your reflections on where you were when Neil took his walk on the moon. Or how about sharing some thoughts or comments on what it might look like to follow Micah’s call to “humbly walk with our God” in an “all-about-me” kind of world?