On a long and taxing cross-country plane ride I watched what looked like an old, from-the-vault documentary about the early days of NASA.
There was footage of men in white polyester shirts and skinny black ties staring into huge and bulky computer screens tracking primitive rockets as they lifted off from launch pads.
There were early efforts at configuring rockets. There were flight trajectories, rockets spiraling into low orbits, all of the familiar footage of a program struggling to be born.
I remember watching some of those launches live. I'm old enough to have sat in a class room in school, staring at a small black and white portable TV, hoping that this time, this time the rocket would get off the pad, that it wouldn't spiral out of control, that it wouldn't have to be destroyed before it veered dangerously off course.
But the video on the plane had a different feel to it.
It gave the feel that our exploration of space, while difficult and challenging, was virtually inevitable. That one way or another, we would find our way into space, to the moon, and beyond.
It made me wonder what the video of this period of American and world history will look like.
Will we see America struggling to deal with the challenges of energy, global climate change, education, health care, social change, financial meltdown--and doing it with a sense that our time will yield solutions that feel just as inevitable in retrospect as the space program does looking back today?
Will we remember the spirit of contention and lack of civility that is so widely commented on today?
Or will we erase that part of the experience and focus on the determination, grit and problem-solving resolve of the American character?
What story will we tell ourselves in the future--after we've written the facts of the story today?
I don't know how we'll look back on this period. Whether we'll think our best selves rose to the occasion and came up with creative solutions. Whether we'll pat ourselves on the back for doing the hard work that positive change always demands.
I don't know.
But I do know, and that vintage film reminded me, worthwhile things are always hard.
That's true for us as individuals, and for us as a society.
If it's worth doing, it's going to take hard work. In part, I think, it's the hard work that makes it worth doing--and the fact that it's worth doing that makes us shoulder the hard work.
All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb