We’re Only Here for a Blink — But it’s a Looong Blink

I recently watched a great movie called Hidden Figures. It was my second viewing since it came out in 2017. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and rent it or stream it.

The plot focuses on three little-known African American women who were key contributors to the success of the early space program.

The movie is equal measures inspirational and embarrassing. All three women possessed singular skills and were vital to the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. Yet because of their ethnicity, they had to overcome unfair hurdles to make their contributions. Mathematician Katherine Johnson, for instance, had to make 40-minute round-trips to the “Colored” bathroom.

While shaking my head at the unenlightened practices of those times, it occurred to me that I was alive then. I was too young to be totally aware of the racial climate, but it makes the ’60s seem a lot farther back in history when I see them depicted like that in the movies.

Young adults can’t imagine that world. To see how far society has come in the last several decades makes me realize I’ve been alive a long time.

Earth is about four billion years old. Man, depending on how one defines the species, is around four million years old. So a human lifetime is a blink. But not to us.

 

One of my favorite TV shows is called Highlander. It is based on a movie from 1986. The TV series ran from 1992 to 1998. It chronicled the exploits of a bunch of immortals who could only die by losing their heads. Oh sure, car accidents, gunshot wounds, and falling off cliffs hurt — but those things didn’t kill them, and any injuries healed almost instantly. They had nothing to worry about.

Unfortunately, however, all immortals aspired to cut the heads off other immortals in a fair sword fight. You see, there was a big prize at the end for the last one standing who still had a head. As you can imagine, swordsmanship was a must-have skill.

A few immortals had lived for thousands of years. The main character, Duncan MacLeod, was 400 years old, and he drew on that long lifetime for wisdom as he dealt with modern dilemmas. It would be an understatement to say he’d lived an adventurous life. He’d loved and fought down through the centuries, and he seemed to show up at numerous inflection points in history.

I loved it when he’d flash back to, say, the Napoleonic Wars; the English occupation of India; the Shogunate of Japan; and so on. I was fascinated by his ability to tap centuries-old memories of historically momentous events.

Then it occurred to me that I can conjure up memories that would astound younger people too. Those born in this century wouldn’t know what to make of dial telephones; having only three TV stations to choose from; print newspapers; and computerless living. What would they think about eyewitness accounts of the Beatles? Watching the Apollo 11 Moon landing live on TV? Gasoline shortages? They would ascribe me to the Stone Age — the same way I did when I listened to my elders’ stories of the old days.

So yes, humankind only lives a short time, geologically speaking. But societally, we are long-lived indeed. Significant milestones fill our memories.

As long as we keep our heads.

 

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Comments

  1. Sadly, it’s few who are fascinated by the ‘ancient history’ of their parents or grandparents; boredom is the normal reply. The old adage is true: the older we get, the more we realize how like us are our elders. From my point of view, we’re still uncivilized, still projecting ignorant views on those who we deem different and still evolving at a very slow pace. Yet human inventiveness, expressed through technology if not compassion for others, is pretty far out!

    • We are still half savage according to the Metron who pitted Captain Kirk against the lizard-like Gorn. But even he thought we showed promise as a species.

  2. Frank Sollie says

    When my son was around 10-12 (he`s 20 now) I bought the orignal Superman movies on blu-ray. A collection of all the movies with Reeve as the man of steel. New tv with the latest tech and all that. We wre going to watch SUPERMAN together. It took 10 minutes and he was off to his room. Laughing. LOUD. When Krypton (Supermans home planet) exploded they must have used fireworks in front of a large black curtain (that`s what it looked like). With the latest tech (blu-ray and led tv) this was very visible. I hadn`t seen it before, but didn`t care as I was into the story (our generation usually is as we didn`t grow up with perfect special effects/CGI). My son fell over on the sofa, laughing, pointing at the screen “did you see the background moving when the planet exploded”. That was it. He gave up and went to his room. Felt like a caveman showing my son how to rub two sticks together to make fire and he shows up with matches….

    • That got a chuckle out of me. I’ll have to watch that movie again to see if I notice. And to think I’m still okay with (or at least forgive) the effects on 1956’s Forbidden Planet.

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