Our Heroes and Their Leaps

Monday, August 27, 2012 / 9:53 PM

"The important achievement of Apollo was demonstrating that humanity is not forever chained to this planet and our visions go rather further than that and our opportunities are unlimited." -Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong, the famed astronaut and first man on the moon, died on Saturday at the age of 82. We all know the stories and images and that famous quote--"This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."--and those who were alive for that incredible moment have stories to tell. Where were you when they landed on the moon? Oh, what I wouldn't give to have a personal story from that.

Armstrong's death brings the end of an era to America's front pages. As BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski pointed this out on Twitter on Saturday after news of Armstrong's death broke: "The youngest of the 8 remaining people who have walked on the Moon is 78, and America isn't making anymore of them."

Who are our heroes these days? What moments will we look back on and remember how we felt--that moment when we felt so American, so alive in this supposed Land of the Free? If someone were to ask me to fill in the rest of the question "Where were you when...," my answers would all be something along the lines of tragedy or heartbreak: Where were you when the Columbine shooting happened? Where were you when the Twin Towers fell? 

Of course, there are questions on the other end of the spectrum to be asked...Where were you when Barack Obama was elected president?, and of course that was a historic moment. Where were you when the Mars Curiosity rover landed? That was momentous as well. But to idolize a politician and call him or her a national hero in these polarized days filled with mudslinging feels strange. And Curiosity cannot be a national hero; it is the geniuses of NASA who deserve that title, but how many of us know their names?

I keep thinking about who I'll tell future generations about. What moments will stand out?

The answer, I've discovered, fall in two categories: journalists and writers I admire, and ordinary people who don't make the headlines. In many ways, perhaps there's something poetic and lovely about that: the heroes in my lifetime, the ones who jump to mind immediately when the word "hero" is said, are the people who are personally in my life.

But, then again...I'm only 23. I've got a lot of living ahead (I hope). Here's to hoping we can unite again as a country and turn our eyes toward a moment that will life on in our memories forever.

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