Saturday, August 25, 2012

DEATH OF A LEGEND: Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, has died on August 25, 2012, at age 82.

A man of surpassing intelligence, dignity, and self-possession, he will remain an inspiration for all time. And not just for his iconic status as the commander of the Apollo 11 lunar mission.

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."