Martin LeFevre: In the Light of the Earth
In the Light of the Earth
“In the Shadow of the Moon” is a documentary film that captures something of what it was like to go to the moon. In it, the astronauts recount their experiences and give their perspectives and insights. And the most interesting astronaut of the first trio is Mike Collins, who circled the moon while Armstrong and Aldrin were on the surface.
About a third of the 24 men who have gone to the moon are interviewed in this picture, set to a beautiful new score by composer Phillip Sheppard, and burnished with spectacular video, much of it not seen before. Many of the astronauts have profoundly spiritual things to say. But it’s Collins, in his wry, self-deprecating, and impish kind of way, who stands out in the film for me.
After being gone from the earth for a week, and immediately after the fiery descent into the ocean, Collins says, “I can remember the beautiful water. We were out in the deep ocean in the Pacific; it was such a startling violet color. I remember looking at the ocean and admiring it [thinking]: Nice ocean you’ve got here planet earth.”
Some excellent descriptions of ‘mystical experience’ are also contained in the film, though the astronauts would surely not call them that. Mystical experience is something completely different than paranormal phenomena, such as the interest in telepathy and UFOs that Edgar Mitchell, who is also featured in the film, has evinced. (Mitchell doesn’t talk about his paranormal interests in the film, but does describe “an overwhelming sense of oneness, of connectedness,” which speaks to mystical experience.)
But it’s Collins who manages, in fighter pilot language and tone, to stun you with his understated eloquence. Circling the moon while Armstrong and Aldrin were skipping around and picking up rocks on the surface, Collins says, “I was described as the loneliest man in the universe, which really is a lot of baloney.”
“I certainly was aware of the fact that I was by myself, particularly when I was on the backside of the moon. I remember thinking, ‘you look over there [toward earth], and there’s three [now seven!] billion people; plus two somewhere down there [on the moon]. Then over here there’s one plus…God only knows what.”
As has often been said, the moon astronauts were the first and only people to see the earth as a whole from space. But most continued to see the earth with new eyes, and that points the way out of the world weary, depressing reality that human consciousness has become.
One does not have to go to the moon to see this beautiful planet, “truly an oasis,” anew. By learning how to look and let go of the accretions of memory and experience, one can bathe the eyes and heart in the infinite ocean of innocence, and see, not ‘through the glass darkly,’ but without the warping prism of the past at all.
What does a score of Americans going to the moon two score years ago have to do with this world, which has changed so much, largely for the worse, since the moon shots? How can their experience help humankind—you and I--to stop destroying the earth?
Again Collins: “After the flight of Apollo 11 the three of us went on a round the world trip. Wherever we went people, instead of saying, ‘well, you Americans did it,’ everywhere they said, ‘we did it, we humankind, we the human race, we people did it.’ I never heard people in different countries use this word we, we, we as emphatically as we were hearing from Europeans, Africans, Asians. Wherever we went, it was, ‘we finally did it.’ And I thought that was a wonderful thing. Ephemeral, but wonderful.”
For it not to be ephemeral, it will require both a psychological revolution and a political expression.
Because now we know, much more than at that distant time from that distant perspective, that Collins is right when he said regarding “that jewel of earth just hung up in the blackness of space…oddly enough, the overriding sensation I got looking at the earth was, my God, that little thing is so fragile.”
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: email@example.com. The author welcomes comments.