It’s time to take a giant leap for mankind

Some words are destined from the beginning to last forever. And no matter how long we live, we never forget them.
“The only thing to fear is fear itself.” “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” “Give me liberty or give me death.” “I have a dream!” “One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”
Then last month, another phrase was added to that forever roster. We recognized it as such the moment it was spoken.
“A crew of six astronaut heroes and one American legend.”
With that historic statement, a 77-year-old one-time astronaut was launched into space–fast on his way to becoming an American icon.
Not all of us this side of 60 were watching 36 years ago when John Glenn first blasted off into space. Actually, I doubt that I was although it’s hard to say for sure.
It’s more likely I was sitting in the living room having coffee and cookies with a Canadian friend while an assortment of tiny children napped and played. Somehow in that setting, John Glenn’s adventure seemed strangely irrelevant.
But it’s different this time. Not only has our interest in space exploration mushroomed, but also this time, John Glenn stands for something terribly important to every American citizen–personal empowerment regardless of age.
Intermittently, during the telecast, we were shown a large group of students gathered at the John Glenn High School in New Concord, Ohio celebrating their hometown hero.
The teenagers watched with keen fascination because, said the television reporter, they see Glenn “as an inspiration and a reminder there are no boundaries as to what they can achieve.”
When you’re young, that’s the way the world looks. There seem to be no boundaries as to what you can accomplish in life, especially if someone from your hometown has paved the way.
But slowly, as you live year by year, the opportunities slip away. More and more it seems there are boundaries–and what you can hope to achieve is limited.
Certainly one of the things a near 80-year-old could never have expected to do is launch into space. But now the boundaries have been stripped away.
There is, however, in all this excitement and celebration, still a down side. One we’d rather not talk about but maybe should. This down side is best illustrated by the experience of ex-astronaut Story Musgrave.
Musgrave, a “career astronaut,” previously held the record as the oldest man in space–age 61 in 1996. However, in 1997, after 30 years in the space program and a stellar record, Musgrave was told he would never fly again.
Now a 77-year-old “career senator” has stolen Musgrave’s record.
It doesn’t take much wisdom to see the difference between a career astronaut manning the flight and a career senator–wise though he is–who enters the cabin second to last.
It’s a wonderful thing to have a 77-year-old man in space but ageism will only truly be defeated when a person with expertise is allowed to practice that expertise regardless of age.
So every time you think of the “American Legend,” give thanks for the wonderful first step John Glenn has taken. But remember that when it comes to ageism,” the “giant leap for mankind” is still to come.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist.

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