A Tale of Two Towns, July 27, 2009

Letter From New York
July 26, 2009

A Tale of Two Towns


This past Saturday felt like an old-fashioned summer day; warm to the edge of hot, muggy to the edge of insufferable, sun showers – crowds swarming Warren Street, moving from shop to shop with the riverfront swelled by crowds looking to study the Halfe Maen [Half Moon], the half size replica of Henry Hudson’s vessel which was docked in Hudson as part of the 400th Anniversary Celebration of Captain Hudson’s historic voyage up the river that bears his name.

Standing on the waterfront, looking at the half sized Half Moon I thought: at full size I might have trusted it to carry me up and down the river but across the Atlantic? No. I prefer something more the size of the Queen Mary II for that voyage. Looking at the wooden craft, I imagined 400 years ago. It must have taken tremendous courage – or foolhardiness – to set sail from the old world for the new. The Half Moon may have been the height of maritime technology at the time but it’s not very spectacular four centuries later when we can compare it to the Queen Mary II – the Half Moon would probably easily into one of QM II’s holds.

While I was attempting to imagine crossing an ocean in a ship twice the size of the craft I was staring at, I found myself thinking of another anniversary that occurred last week – the 40th anniversary of man’s landing on the moon. Apollo 11 was the height of space technology at the time and yet the further we get from that moment when Neil Armstrong took “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” we now know that their craft was the space equivalent of the Half Moon, best available but crude at best.

A few months ago I read somewhere that the Apollo 11 mission was not expected to succeed. In fact, speechwriters worked hard at crafting words for President Nixon so that he could announce their deaths to the world should the mission, as expected, fail. The best-case scenario seemed to be that Apollo 11 would probably have to abort and return to earth without successfully landing on the moon.

However, the Eagle did land.

Standing on the riverfront while appraising the Half Moon, I found tears coming to my eyes as I thought of the courage of Hudson and his men willing to toss themselves out onto the cold Atlantic in a voyage of exploration. The feeling was intensified when I thought of the men of the Apollo 11 mission: Collins, Armstrong, Aldrin, men who chose to risk their lives to learn more about the unknown, to stretch man’s reach to the moon if not yet to the stars, to begin the long hard journey out into space – “the final frontier,” to toss themselves out in the coldness of space in a voyage of exploration.

The only autograph I have ever asked for was from Buzz Aldrin, one of the Apollo 11 three. At the request of my friend Howard Bloom, I orchestrated a meeting for him at History Channel. As he was about to get into the car to head for the airport, I couldn’t resist and it sits framed in a place of pride in my home office. I want to be reminded of that kind of courage as often as possible.

Life often seems daunting and impossible, occasionally causing even the most stalwart of souls to edge on despair. It is good when edging on those moments to think of those who risked their lives to stretch the horizon of the world inhabited by other human beings.

Thankfully, Nixon did not have to give that speech and the first three men to the moon are still alive and were able to celebrate their anniversary. Hopefully, by the 50th anniversary of their feat we will have returned to the moon and start the long march to the stars – because it is the “final frontier” and the human race seems to do best when it stretches its imagination and efforts to know the unknown, to find the wonder of being human.

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