The summer of 1969 was a wild one.
Muhammad Ali was convicted of draft dodging and in the process the court legitimized J. Edgar Hoover’s wiretapping of the African American icon’s phones for so-called “national security” reasons.
Ted Kennedy drove his car off a bridge and into a pond at Chappaquiddick, which killed Mary Jo Kopechne, the senator’s presidential chances and any remaining shreds of public confidence in the fairness of the criminal justice system.
The Vietnam War raged, and my friends who couldn’t afford to go to college or pay doctors to diagnose illusive bone spurs or deviated septums were getting drafted.
And I graduated from Brookfield Central High School.
Angry, alienated and infatuated with civil disobedience, my friends and I back then were sure that things in America couldn’t get any worse.
We didn’t have the right to vote or to buy contraceptives, employment discrimination against women was legal and, despite all the systematic contempt for youth, 18-year-olds were considered plenty mature enough to die in Vietnam.
Then came the day when a ceasefire occurred in the generational, racial and political combat. We gathered around the Sylvania — a big old console TV in my friend’s living room — and a bunch of us with our recently minted high-school diplomas watched the moon landing together.
It was gorgeous.
Walter Cronkite was verklempt at the sight and, I’ll admit, so were we.
For a moment it seemed like anything was possible. Science was destiny. The future was brilliant. A new day had dawned and technology would be our salvation.
Keep in mind that 1969 was a simpler time, so we can be forgiven for our eagerness to be awed, our delight in a moment of unabashed national pride, our willingness to suspend judgment and naively be transfixed by the transparent theatricality of it all.
Plus, we needed a break from the rest of the news.
The drama of the moon landing didn’t obscure the fact that we lived in an era of blatant racism, sexism, homophobia and political dysfunction. A walk on the moon didn’t change any of that.
The war didn’t stop. I went off to college where the demonstrations were loud, fevered and spectacular.
Spiro Agnew attacked the news media, calling them the “nattering nabobs of negativism.” Richard Nixon was lying about the war, keeping an “enemies list” and famously called college students “bums.”
Cesar Chavez led walkouts and went on hunger strikes calling for basic human rights for farmworkers. Fourteen black football players were cut by the University of Wyoming for wearing black armbands to protest institutional racism at Brigham Young University on the day of the game between the two schools.
Marijuana was declared a Schedule 1 drug (just like heroin) by a law-and-order U.S. Attorney General who ended up doing prison time for his felonious role in the Watergate scandal.
I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point. The more things change ….
When we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, it offered a brief respite from the reality of another soul-crushing news cycle.
Heck, even the Boulder Turnpike collapsed last week. So much for the promise of technology.
I lay in bed and stared at the night sky and thought about the meaning of it all. How much of our quest to land on the moon was symbolic? How much was an extraordinary human feat?
I loved once again reading the hyped-up stories about heroic astronauts, but in the course of human history — American history — did it honestly make any difference?
That remains unclear.
So, I closed my eyes and before I went to sleep, I decided that one thing I know is that peach pie may well be our greatest human achievement, and I live in Colorado where the peaches are awesome and supernatural and coming into the market.
I vowed to make a difference back in 1969. I promised myself I’d never give up. I’d find a way to make the world a better place.
In honor of that this week I’ll be baking a pie.
Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant.
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