I was born in the middle of the twentieth-century. I was born to the future.
Like most everyone of the day I was fascinated by all things technological. Most of all, I was spellbound by the space race. Glued to our fuzzy, black-and-white television, I watched in awe these bold men being hurtled to the heavens. To me, the word “future” held only promise.
As that young boy in the Midwest, my prized possession was a crystal radio–a minuscule receiver with only a single part, a tiny crystal inside that could be tuned to pick up radio stations. On late winter evenings, when I was supposed to be fast asleep, I would pull out that radio from under my pillow and tune in a far away station.
In that middle-of-the-century night, distant music floated through the ether and into my ear. As those invisible waves flowed through me, I would slip the covers close over my head and press my nose against the stinging glass of the frosted window next to my bed.
And thus, poised like a hooded monk cloistered in a high winter monastery, I would stare out past the snowy roof, screwing up my eyes, to discern if any of the points of light above were the astronauts flying by. I imagined, ever so softly seeping through the celestial symphony, that the voices of those early space travelers could be heard. I remember their brave words, which spoke of one human race on one, single, shining blue planet.
In that half-life between waking and dreaming, snuggled warm and safe in my bed, it seemed that things would always be this way—the pristine night full of perfect dreams and infinite possibility drifting to me on a radio wave.
Though I didn’t know it, the time of my childhood was a time of stark contradiction. For while I held visions of stellar voyages there was another race that rushed onward with even more urgency: the race to build weapons nuclear that brought us to the brink of mass destruction in a small bay called Pigs.
That may have been the most frightening time of our century. I can only imagine the feelings my parents must have had about the terrifying possibilities the future might rain down.
But the unthinkable did not happen. Perhaps it was the words of the astronauts that kept our worst nature at bay and saw us through those difficult times.
Now we face the future again–and still more stark contradictions. Stunning medical breakthroughs. Gene mutation. The global community. International terrorism. The Internet. Big Brother.
This very night, as I peer again at the night sky, I see all the more clearly that the world which is coming will be a place of both promise and challenge. Whatever it may hold, I believe we can face those choices—the good and the bad. I believe we can recall the brave words of those early space travelers: one people, one planet. I believe we can distill from them again the courage to face our collective demons and set our course skyward as we did in a time nearly half a century ago when all eyes were on the heavens and we first stretched out our hands and reached for the stars.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.