Friday, December 09, 2016

John Glenn (1921-2016)

America doesn't seem fit for heroes anymore.  In an era of embarrassing national election results, vapid entertainment, and constant denial of the truth, it's hard to imagine that once giants walked amongst us, and the country was able to unify for brief shining moments around individual men and women who could slip forth and pose challenges that would have been thought impossible just years prior.  John Glenn was one of those grand titans of American history, a man of great substance and character who could push forward into the void and find an intense bravery few before him could mount.

Glenn was a military veteran of both World War II and the Korean War, eventually rising to the role of colonel, but it was his career as an astronaut that caught the world's attention.  Glenn would become, in 1962, the first American to orbit the earth, and would miraculously survive a dangerous mission to reenter the earth's atmosphere (recounted in such movies as The Right Stuff and the upcoming Hidden Figures).  He was the last surviving member of the Mercury 7 astronauts, men who stood forward during the height of the Cold War and played a critical role in winning the "Space Race" to the moon.  So beloved was Glenn that 36 years after his orbit, he returned to study the effects of aging at 77, making him the oldest person ever to go into space.

His career in politics is frequently an afterthought in public memory compared to his moment of immortality on February 20th, but he served for 24 years in the United States Senate as a Democrat, achieving that distinction after trying and failing twice to enter the august body.  Glenn never achieved his second dream, that of being on the national ticket, despite two attempts.  Looking back on it, it's a pity he was never afforded the opportunity as he would have made a fine president, but he can rest well knowing that he's the most significant Democrat of the past forty years to have never been on a national ticket or led a House of Congress.  That's yet another brilliant distinction is his career.

But for me, he will eternally be a hero circling the globe, one of those few men that I could look up to as a child, or any of us could look up to as an adult with respect, and marvel at such bravery, courage, and vision.  It takes an untold amount of will and grit to spend your entire life pursuing your dreams, particularly when those dreams literally take you to the stars.  Thank god we had men like John Glenn who showed us that finding the infinite is always possible.

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