There’s a lot of worry, as there should be, about formative years. It goes beyond feeling bad about proms and graduations, Little League, soccer, championship games and college dorms and the inability of young people to experience events the way everyone did up to just a few months ago.
There’s worry now about schools and how we’re going to continue to offer the education young people need and deserve, and worry about jobs and the economy and … worry about everything. Young people growing up with the pandemic today will one day be the movers and shakers of the world. How will the experience shape their approach and how they see the world?
There have been tough times in the past, certainly. It would be hard to find a generation more hard pressed than the one that grew up in the Great Depression and the Second World War. It’s not called the Greatest Generation for nothing.
Card-carrying members of the baby boom generation (as in your Medicare card) in many ways were spoiled (our parents did not have to arrange play dates, for example), but growing up in the 1960s was also no bed of roses. The years from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to Watergate were as marred by upheaval as any — assassinations, civil unrest, a 1968 Democratic national convention that felt like the world was imploding, and of course the war in Vietnam.
Having said all that, I’m not sure any of it compares to today, when the crisis is global, the enemy unseen, with those at risk any and every human being. Yet the 50th anniversary of the first walk on the moon last year and more recently of the Apollo 13 emergency brought to mind how even in the most troubling of times the better angels of humanity can still rise to the surface.
It wasn’t that, growing up in the ‘60s, we didn’t recognize that the race to the moon was a Cold War challenge. Like the Olympic games of those days, it was all part of an ideological battle. A gold medal for the Soviets was a win for communism, and so on. But when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon there was something more unifying taking place. Never mind that his small step for a “man” left out half the planet’s population — today we recognize it as a linguistic faux pas of the era, like Captain Kirk wanting to “go where no man has gone before.” That first small step was for everyone back on Earth.
On Wednesday afternoon I made sure I was set to watch the rocket launch from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. Fifty years ago it would have involved adjusting the rabbit ears on the RCA, but today all you have to do is fire up the PC or touch the smartphone. It was to be the first launch of American astronauts from U.S. soil since the last flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, in 2011.
The launch was postponed, which is par for the course in these super careful proceedings, and rescheduled for Saturday, which gives us all time to adjust our rabbit ears.
But here’s something worth noting: In the midst of a global emergency we are sending people to space, to hook up with the International Space Station. It will likely become an incidental detail, but it’s significant that it’s the first time a commercial spaceship, the SpaceX of Elon Musk, has carried NASA astronauts to space. Here’s hoping it will become so routine it won’t be worth writing a column about it. The idea is to set up a sort of taxi service to the ISS. It’s also seen as a step toward sending people to Mars.
Watching a rocket streak to the sky. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing something like that. It’s wonderful to imagine where it might lead, and bolstering to consider that it was during a global crisis that we took that first step.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or firstname.lastname@example.org.