A Rose for Neil

A longtime friend found herself in a reflective mood this week.

“I keep finding myself wondering,” she wrote online, “what Neil Armstrong thought about when he looked up at the moon every night.”

It’s a question that holds its own magic, that maybe has no answer. Or too many. Old friends, staring at each other across the miles? A feeling of pride? Of humility? Of regret for what wasn’t done or gratitude for what was?

The possibilities left me intrigued. They even stayed in the back of my head during my bedtime reading with Missy, a chapter from “The Secret Garden.”

And like the ivy of the garden’s walls, thoughts began to grow.

If you’ve never read the children’s classic, you have something beautiful ahead of you. It deals with a selfish, imperious little girl, Mary, who is sent to live with relatives in England after her family dies, where she discovers a curious mystery – a walled garden, the door concealed, the key hidden, locked away by its owner for 10 years because of a tragedy that occurred inside.

Over time, Mary sets herself to finding it and then to reviving it. And in the course of doing so, she revives herself and others as well.

“However many years she lived,” the author mused, “Mary always felt that she should never forget that first morning when her garden began to grow.”

Perhaps, however many years you live, you never forget your first step on another world.

If it had stopped there, maybe the thought would have been enough by itself. After all, it’s something we can all share, even without help from the Kennedy Space Center. Whether that new world is another state, another country, the first morning of being a parent, the last day of being a student – the uncertainty, the excitement, the feeling of starting something new remains.

But the idea took deeper roots still.

At first, Mary wants her garden to stay her secret. Then she slowly widens the circle of those who can come – first to help, then to be helped. In the end, keeping the garden as “hers” becomes less important than sharing its beauty with others.

So few have been within that distant “garden” of rock and dust. Even though most of the world has seen it from afar, the moon remains our world’s secret garden, truly known by only a few – and for years, locked away as surely as any brass key could do.

What good would it do our souls to return? What good to our minds, our hopes, our imaginations, if the miles beyond the sky were to become highways again for us and not just our machines?

What perspective might be gained if more of us were to know the beauty – and to know that that beauty was within our reach, not just an accomplishment of another day and another time, never to be repeated?

I wonder. I really do.

And if I wonder, never having been there – how much more so, perhaps, for one who had seen?

Look at the moon and wink, his family asked. I will. And I’ll continue to keep my own hopes alive that someday we’ll do more than just wink.

You have my envy, Mr. Armstrong. You took the steps beyond the wall, and came to see the roses that lay within.

I only hope, someday, that the key will be found again. And that the wonders of the garden will be open to all who wish to come.

One Reply to “A Rose for Neil”

  1. I want to go into space at least once before I die, I’ve said this lots of times. It’s one of my most deeply felt goals. Bring on the affordable space tourism!

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