A friend on FB posted a link to “Before the Moon” at the BBC, and that prompted this memory:
I’ve been a member of the local Museum of Flight for years and years. They send a magazine every other month that I usually forget to look at and because I’ve been a member for so long I get invites to donor events. I usually just put them in a pile and look at them every so often because I have found I am a poor cultural fit with the folks that tend to show up at these things. Not hopelessly so, as there will be plenty of opportunities to nerd out about airplanes, but usually the people that don’t also want to talk politics are over my head mathematically and the people who want to talk politics unselfconsciously tend to open their conversation by saying stuff I find personally threatening, usually without being aware that they are so doing. Not always and of course I generalize, but this holds true often enough that I just put ’em on the pile.
About two months before Commander Armstrong passed away, I went through one of these piles to find an unopened invitation to a fundraising dinner in support of the MoF’s effort to become the eventual home for one of the retiring Space Shuttles. At the time, the Museum’s president and leader was a retired Shuttle-era astronaut and she was instrumental in leading the effort to bring an orbiter here. The efforts failed, but a knock-on effect was that the museum significantly expanded its’ collection of space-related artifacts, in particular personal effects of Apollo and Gemini program vets. This was often in association with appearances at the Museum by these aging astronauts, usually in conjunction with private fundraising events.
The invitation was to one of these, a holiday event about four months gone. It was a run-of-the mill invitation to an event I had already missed – until I saw who the guest of honor was: Neil Armstrong. Armstrong had essentially stopped all public appearances over twenty years prior due to his discomfort with the increasing pressure he felt to sign autographs and so forth, going to great lengths in his old age to resist the commodification of his presence and traces thereof, including a legal dispute with his barber over the unauthorized sale of hair clippings. I was flabbergasted. I quickly dug through the pile of magazines to find the one issued after the holidays in early spring, and flipped to the flash-saturated event photos. There he was, wizened, gripping and grinning like a trouper. Apparently he permitted an unlimited photo op, although now that consider it, that can’t possibly be right. I mean surely it’s possible, but that’s a lot to ask of this elderly, private man.
Whatever, I’ll never know, because I did not open the invitation to the event. I was invited (along with a couple of thousand other folks) to have dinner with Neil Armstrong, and I did not know it because I unnecessarily make negative and dismissive assumptions about the world.