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A broader perspective

By Mike Ruffin 1968 was a tough year. The Vietnam War was raging. Assassins struck down Dr. King and Sen. Kennedy. Riots tore apart major American cities. The divisions between people were sharp. But something happened at the end of that year that showed us something we really needed to know. And many of us watched it on television. I was ten years old, sitting on the floor in front of our nineteen-inch black and white television set in the little den of the little house on Memorial Drive. I joined millions of other people in watching the images of the moon’s surface being beamed to Earth by the astronauts aboard Apollo 8. I listened as the three explorers’” Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders’”read the opening verses of the creation poem found in the first chapter of the biblical book of Genesis. It was’”and I am very selective in how I use this word’”awesome. As Apollo 8 took its ten trips around the moon, Astronaut Bill Anders took many photographs of the moon’s surface to help identify possible landing sites for future lunar missions. On one of the craft’s revolutions around the moon, Earth came into view. As it did, Anders took several shots of it. One of those pictures has become iconic. The photograph, with its image of a blue globe rising over the bleak lunar landscape against the blackness of space, is known as ‘Earthrise.’ The astronauts aboard Apollo 8 were the first human beings to travel to the moon and back and to see the far side of the moon. In an essay written for on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of their Christmas Eve 1968 experience, Anders reflected on the Earth that he and his fellow astronauts saw from their lunar orbit: The Earth we saw rising over the battered grey lunar surface was small and delicate, a magnificent spot of color in the vast blackness of space. Once-distant places appeared inseparably close. Borders that once rendered division vanished. All of humanity appeared joined together on this glorious-but-fragile sphere. Anders went on to say, Fifty years later, “Earthrise”‘”the lingering imprint of our mission’”stands sentinel. It still reminds us that distance and borders and division are merely a matter of perspective. We are all linked in a joined human enterprise; we are bound to a planet we all must share. We are all, together, stewards of this fragile treasure. We had never seen Earth from the perspective of astronauts orbiting the moon. We had never had the privilege of seeing it as a unified whole rather than in its constituent parts. Fifty years later, I’m afraid we’ve forgotten that we’re all in this together. I’m afraid we’ve failed to remember that all human beings share responsibility for this planet. I’m afraid that we seldom think, talk, and act as if there is more that unites us than divides us. In the 1996 film Independence Day, aliens launch a devastating attack on Earth. Eventually, forces from all over the world band together to carry out a counterattack. Former foes join to fight against a common enemy in order to save humankind. I know that the divisions in our world’”and even in our nation’”are deep. But I believe that we need to come together to combat our common enemies. The list of those enemies is long, but I’ll mention just two: climate change and poverty. Both of these crises drive and will continue to drive the problems of war, famine, and mass migration that beset our world. I realize that our perspective tends to be narrow: we focus on our nation, our state, our community, and our family. But I want to call your attention back to the perspective the Apollo 8 astronauts gave us. Let’s adopt a broader perspective. We all live on this planet. We’re all in this together. We need to work together for the sake of all humanity.

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