Mira’s been asking me what my favorite movie is. I’m not sure that I have one, but certainly one that makes the top ten is Apollo 13. It isn’t that I think it’s necessarily the greatest movie ever made, but it’s a movie that has grabbed me in the gut every time I’ve seen it. And I’ve seen it many times—more than probably any other movie.
See, I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. As a kid, I liked playing astronaut much better than any of the other games—cowboys and Indians [sic], cops and robbers, tornado, Lewis and Clark, war. When I doodled in workbooks in school, I was drawing spaceships and space food and space suits. I had every intention of growing up to be an astronaut in the Apollo space program.
Thing is, I got distracted along the way. See, I also wanted to be Johnny Cash when I grew up. Never mind that somebody already had that gig. I had every intention of learning guitar and developing my baritone and being Johnny Cash.
Thing is, I got distracted along the way. See, I always wanted to play horn, and starting in fifth grade I finally got to start horn lessons, and before you know it, I was practicing pretty much all the time, going to orchestra camps, playing solos and ensembles for contest, driving forty miles each way every Wednesday night for symphony practice… I had every intention of becoming a professional horn player.
And that one I remembered to do. Forgot about becoming an astronaut.
Until Apollo 13 came out. And here’s the funny thing—I read part of a New York Times review of the movie before I saw it. The review mentioned the tragic launchpad fire that killed all three astronauts in the Apollo 1 mission before going on to describe the events of Apollo 13. But people were talking, things were going on, and I didn’t read any of it correctly, so when I watched the movie, I kept waiting for the part where they all died. When they lose radio contact during re-entry and don’t get contact back for a full minute past the expected time, I figured that’s when they all finally died—after so much incredible heroism in the ship and on the ground—and I could not believe that a modern blockbuster movie was going to build and build and build to such a bummer of a conclusion.
And then the radio crackled back to life, the parachutes came on screen, and nobody in Mission Control felt more jubilation than I did. Unlike the guys in Mission Control, after all, I actually knew they didn’t make it; they all still had hope.
That’s when I remembered I want to be an astronaut when I grow up. I still do, but they killed the Apollo program, and now they’ve killed the space shuttle program. The space program is one of the most exciting things humanity has managed to do, but it’s not important?
Would that I were playing a kaddish for the small-minded politicians who don’t get it instead.