I have come to realize that I have high expectations. I demand a lot of myself and push myself to achieve. As I write this I’ve just finished watching the documentary In the Shadow of the Moon and I’m remembering the joy, excitement, sense of adventure and pride I felt as a child during the early days of the space program. I don’t think I realized it until just recently how much my childhood fascination with the space program influenced my life.
For as far back as I can remember my heroes were what today, we call nerds. Scientists and inventors who asked questions that no one else dared ask. Who dreamed of things beyond what the rest of the world thought possible. People who through hard work, sacrifice, dedication and an unswerving belief that what they alone dreamed could indeed be achieved, found a way to do the impossible – fantastic even.
I get goose bumps when I think that just about the time I was learning to ride my bike without training wheels, there were men, slide rule in hand, conceiving the plan to launch a human being into space. When I think of the whole space program, one word comes to mind – audacity. Dictionary.com defines it here:
au·dac·i·ty –noun. 1. boldness or daring, esp. with confident or arrogant disregard for personal safety, conventional thought or other restrictions.
I get goose bumps because I am thrilled to know that such daring exists. These folks at NASA took up a challenge to put a man on the moon within a decade. Perhaps today that doesn’t sound like much of a feat but when you regard it in the context of the technology that existed at the time, the fact that they accomplished this is quite miraculous. The laptop upon which I type this probably has more computing power than all the devices which existed at Mission Control at that time. The astronauts, who were not simple barnstormers plucked off a circus tour but highly educated and trained pilots, knew that they could die in what they were attempting. They saw their friends die on the launch pad in a lift-off simulation yet they didn’t waiver.
When I think about the courage and personal fortitude it took to pursue this goal, I get goose bumps. The astronauts, engineers, physicists, chemists, machinists etc. put their minds to accomplishing this goal, expected to accomplish this goal and did it. They did it.
I get goose bumps when I think that we ever thought we had the right to use space as we saw fit. Talk about the ultimate expression of eminent domain. I’m speaking to the little known cold-war program to put spies into space. At the same time our collective imaginations were being sparked by the advent of space flight, the American and Soviet governments were in another space race – one to put a team of men into space to spy on each other. The PBS series Nova covered this in a program called Astrospies.
So in watching the space program I grew up believing that anything was possible. I grew up believing that through hard work, I, and anyone else, could achieve. I grew up with high expectations of myself. I think what has driven me to survive an abusive marriage, raise my children, put myself through school and build the life I have is my expectation to succeed and achieve. Surely, if it were humanly possible to put a man on the moon it was possible for me to rise above whatever circumstance in which I found myself.
The downside to this belief is that I tend to think that just because I did it, others should be able to do so too. Sometimes I think I do others a disservice by projecting my own level of high expectation on them. I think in a lot of ways I pushed my expectations on my children. Recognizing their strengths and potential I can see how sometimes I have pushed them towards what I thought was best. The problem in that is that by doing so, I don’t allow them to explore and learn from their own journey. It’s hard when you are alone raising children not to become over protective or smothering. You know all the mistakes you’ve made and you don’t want your kids to repeat them. The big lesson for me as I go through my middle years is to trust that I have given my kids all the tools they need to be decent, independent, responsible adults and have the audacity, if you will, to just step out of the way and let them be just that.
On clear, dark nights out here by the lake I still gaze at the sky. If I’m patient, I can see satellites orbiting above and think of Sputnik and a certain July event that was so thrilling it brought tears of pride and joy to Walter Cronkite’s eyes. Although I’m learning to be more mellow as I age, when I look at the stars I feel sometimes it’s alright to have high expectations because it gives us all something to reach for.