(I originally posted this tribute to my blog at: http://behindthehedge.wordpress.com/2012/08/25/toast-to-the-memory-of-neil-armstrong/ )
I'd like to toast the memory of a man by all reports of a most excellent brilliance which was, remarkably, surpassed by his shy humility. A man who performed a feat beyond epic heroism. For those too young to remember, in July, 1969, Neil Armstrong and two companions climbed into what was effectively a Volkswagen beetle augmented by a computer with slightly less processing power than your toaster. Then he let some guy light up under him one of the bigger bombs humanity has ever created and flew that Beetle into space. Then, a few days later, Armstrong and one of his companions climbed into a gangly arthopodish construction of tin foil packed full of yet more explosives. Armstrong piloted that ridiculous craft to the surface of the moon and became the only person ever --ever -- to set foot on a world never before trodden by humanity. Until some woman or man treads the red dust of Mars or the charcoal of an asteroid, no one will ever do what Neil Armstrong did. Then, Armstrong and his companion, Buzz Aldrin set off the rest of their explosives, rose into the lunar sky, and then they and their third companion Michael Collins rode the tin can back to Earth in an almost quarter of a million mile free-fall. Far faster than a speeding bullet they crashed into the Earth's atmosphere and plunged into the arms of the Pacific Ocean, completing a journey no hero of epic could have imagined in his (they're almost always male, those epic heroes) wildest boastful dreams.
Neil Armstrong could have had anything in the world after becoming The First Man on the Moon. But, like Cato the Elder, Armstrong retreated from public life. Unlike Cato, Neil Armstrong only rarely made any attempt to steer public discourse. He did not ever draw on the equity he had accrued with his inconceivable achievement.
I suspect that Neil Armstrong was very, very aware that he was carried to that step on the moon on the shoulders of thousands -- even millions and perhaps billions --of fellow travellers
Tonight I am raising a small glass of my most expensive single-malt with friends to the memory of a most extraordinary man of heroism and humility, Neil Armstrong, and to all those who threw that bit of tin foil to Tranquility Base. Later I will quietly, by myself, raise a glass of my best single-malt to the dream Armstrong instilled in a whole generation, and in large parts of subsequent generations: the dream of ever exploring outward, of ever reaching farther than our momentary grasp, of always surprising even ourselves with the fact that, gosh, we did it!
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