A quick search on the history of U.S. and Russian efforts to successfully land on the moon yields an overwhelming list of failures. It was as complex a technological problem as had ever been undertaken. The list of mistakes, disasters and just plain bad luck is easy to gloss over today because we know how the story ends. Imagine being a lead scientist in the middle of the effort. How frustrated must you have felt? How lost? My inclination is to idealize the experience by imagining that in the midst of what must have felt impossible those intrepid researchers were buoyed by President Kennedy’s vision that we would land on the moon by the end of the decade. I believe that clarity of vision must have mattered, it must have helped those who were asked to fulfill it.
I try to imagine the marchers preparing to go from Selma to Montgomery. I try to imagine their feelings of dismay that after the march on Washington and after the passage of the Civil Rights Act they must still engage in such a dramatic effort to ensure voting rights already guaranteed by federal law! Such was the intractability, the relentless severity, of the most complex human problem our country has ever faced. How frustrated? How angry? How lost must they have felt when their own government finally granted what should have been in place all along but did not act to ensure it? And, without a vision – a dream – described so powerfully, clearly and simply two years earlier would they have come to Selma in March of 1965? Would they have had the strength to endure the violence of the Pettus bridge and return just two days later to march again? For so many I’m sure that the answer is “yes.” But what a difference it must have made for those exhausted, beaten heroes to have Dr. King’s words to fall back on again, again, and again.
Lost is only a permanent condition if you don’t know where you’re going.
“Where are the Kennedys and Kings of today? The answer, I am convinced, is that they are among us. Out there in the settings with which we are all familiar are the unawakened leaders, feeling no overpowering call to lead and hardly aware of the potential within.” – John Gardner –