Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, has died on August 25, 2012, at age 82.
Armstrong's subsequent refusal to hog
the public limelight -- his withdrawal into a completely private life, because he
didn't want to take exclusive credit for an achievement that he felt
(rightly) was the product of many brilliant, dedicated, unsung individuals -- is one of the things that, in my mind, most marks him as a hero. And certainly, as an individualist.
His post-Apollo career -- in which he repelled every offer to
exploit his status for glory or money -- is completely opposite the
typical course followed by the vacuous instant "celebrities" of our
morally bankrupt Reality TV era. His life, to the contrary, was the
triumph of private substance over public "celebrity." He simply refused
to sacrifice a personal life and its independence to become some
sort of collective "role model."
Armstrong had begun his career as an engineer's engineer,
as a brave test pilot -- a man for whom the substantive rewards of
conquering Nature were infinitely greater than the illusory rewards of
conquering Society. He later became a teacher and a businessman. All of these were the professions of someone whose focus was on the facts of reality -- not winning the approval and adulation of others.
Neil Armstrong's greatness was not that he
was the first to make that "one small step for a man" that became such "a
giant leap for mankind." His real greatness is that he grasped, at the
core of his being, what it was to be a man.
And in that unsung role, as one commentator just put it, his passing is truly "one giant loss for mankind."