It all happened forty two years ago on a hot July afternoon. An eight year old boy and his older brother are called by their Mom to come back inside the house and leave behind a back yard wiffle ball game. The boy’s family gathers in the basement, in front of a black and white television set and watches a ghostly image on a jet black background. One man steps down and stands upon a world that no human being has ever visited before. The moon. Taking one hop onto the lunar landscape, Neil Armstrong says, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
I was that little boy and I’ll never forget that day. Like many from my generation I was fascinated by the romantic and gee-whiz notion of human beings traveling to the moon. It’s hard to imagine now, when spaceflight is mostly received with a collective societal ho-hum, but back in 1969 the race to land a man upon the moon 238,000 miles away galvanized and fascinated a nation and a world. In 1961, when President John F. Kennedy stood before the Congress and challenged that body and the United States to undertake this massive effort, manned space flight was still more science fiction than science fact. Nothing on that technological level had ever been attempted by any country in the history of the world. It would be very expensive, very difficult and perhaps even on the edge of impossible. Was America up to it? Did we have the right stuff? The Apollo space program demanded America act boldly with its best “can-do” attitude.
In a speech at Rice University in 1962, Kennedy emphatically declared that America could and would and must do it. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade…not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win….” Can-do! Did do, just seven years later.
There is something wondrous and inspiring in such a can-do attitude. For such a philosophy refuses to roll over and play dead in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. It never accepts “no” or “it can’t be done” for an answer. It musters the courageous vision to see that which must be done and then rolls up its sleeves and does it.
Faith in God is certainly a perpetual can-do effort. The hungry—we can feed them. The homeless—we can house them. The war-torn—we can build peace. The community—we can create it. But first, with God in the lead, you have to believe you can do it.
All great human endeavors in fact, especially those that are “hard” in Kennedy’s words, begin with a passionate belief that something can be done. Thus charged the work begins: for individuals, a nation, and a world. When America is at its best as a nation, this can-do idealism is embedded in our civic DNA. Achieve independence? Can-do. Overcome the Depression? Can-do. Make the world safe for democracy? Can do. Send a man to the moon? Can-do. Be a world leader in invention, entrepreneurial spirit, freedom? Can-do.
Seems to me these days our country is in sore need of a renewed can-do attitude, a reminder we have overcome the greatest of national crises. The times we live in certainly present us with enough challenges which demand solving, everything from the debt to the wars to an anemic economy to bickering politicians. What we seem to lack is the confidence and commitment of leaders and citizens to do the hard work which lies ahead and believe that together, in sacrifice and solidarity, we can do it.
So remember. We’ve done it before. We can do it again. Do we believe this? I know I do. Just ask that amazed little boy who saw the impossible come true on July 20, 1969. We did it then not because it was easy, but because that hard work called forth the best which is America.
Can-do. Let’s get to work!