Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"...But An Idea Lives On."

"A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on."
- John F. Kennedy at Greenville, NC, Feb. 8, 1963

John F. Kennedy is one of my favorite Presidents, not for the usual worshipful reasons you see from people who idealize the whole Camelot concept, but because of the way he addressed the American public. For me, a large part of what makes the quintessential American is a certain ingenuity and daring, and Kennedy banked on that creative spirit perhaps more than any other President. He wanted to create drastic change in the world and - I think - knew he couldn't will those changes into being on his own, either because there isn't enough force of will in the world to make Americans go quietly along or else because he wanted Americans to put their own stamp on his vision for the country.

To this end, he tended to speak of ideas and of lofty 30 point plans here. When President Kennedy came to address America, he did so in a way that encouraged them to engage their imaginations. One need look no further than that iconic line from his Inaugural address, as he asked Americans to ask what they could do for their country, but one can and should look further to see just how often he tasked the American public with finding their own way to restore certain fundamental ideals and moving forward to shape the country they wanted to live in.

One of the things most closely associated with Kennedy's short term was the National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration. Kennedy loved space, for a variety of reasons ranging from "there is cool stuff up there" to the defense possibilities. He also loved it for the romantic thinking it engendered in the American people and the creativity it inspired. I mean, realistically, who gives a crap about space? It's far, it's cold, it's generally hostile to humans...but there's something about that wide open expanse of stars that gets you thinking about what's there and how to go touch it and look at it and breathe it in. To some extent, it's sheer luck that NASA has been as productive as it has been and continues to be, in both its official capacity and in the Department of Inventing Things by Accident. But the thing is, regardless of how useful it is, NASA and our collective adventures in space give us something to dream about and create our own idea of, something undefined that we can find our own way towards. NASA's achievements also stand as testaments to how much we can do...if we can go to the moon, just think of what else we could do right here on Earth.

I watched the space shuttle go over my house last night. It looked like a quickly moving star. I stood out in my driveway, looking actively crazy in my pajama pants and heavy bear-hunting coat and waved at the sky. I thought for a while about how cool it is that we - humans, Americans - can do things like launch ourselves into space, fly like birds, make ourselves like stars. That's pretty damn cool.

Makes you think about what else you could do, doesn't it?

1 comment:

  1. If you aren't thinking, dreaming or creating, you're dying. And you're taking everyone with you.