The summer of 1969 was a year of great upheaval in the world. Most teenagers I knew were pretty oblivious to national and world events. I turned sixteen in February, and like my friends, my self-centered focus was on going places to do fun things.
And yet, the world screamed for attention. Richard Nixon became president. Young people staged violent protests over a variety of issues. NASA’s Apollo program was in full gear. The death toll in Vietnam was on the nightly news, and the Cold War continued. The draft was reinstituted. Dwight Eisenhower died. Charles de Gaulle stepped down in France, and Golda Meir became prime minister in Israel. Judy Garland died of an overdose. The Zodiac killer and Manson murders made headlines. Chappaquiddick happened. Hurricane Camille devastated the Gulf Coast. Edgier movies and television shows were aired.
I paid attention to The Beatles, Elvis, Folk singers, Paul Revere & the Raiders, and other celebrities. I was fascinated by the big rock concerts like Woodstock and Altamont. I always went to the Big Bam Shows in Montgomery’s Garrett Coliseum, where my parents would drop my friends and me off at the front door with nine or ten thousand other teenagers.
I went to the movies often. Looking back on them, the themes during the 60s were often seductive, dark, and despairing.
I signed up for summer school to get American history out of the way so I could have an easier senior year. But the real reason was my crush-of-the-month had signed up and was willing to give me a ride home sometimes. For that, I was willing to get there at 7:00 a.m. and spend all morning in an un-air-conditioned classroom. As a result, my diary entries for that summer are filled with complaints about the agony of the heat, boring teachers, the difficulty of the subject, and the amount of homework.
But in addition to facts from our nation’s past, the class also stressed the importance of current events as history in the making. The teachers told us to pay attention. Part of our homework was to watch the news and read the daily paper. Of course, we turned in written reports on items of interest and made oral reports in class. Most of the news seemed unimportant.
For the night of Sunday, July 20th, 1969, our assignment was to stay up late into the wee hours of Monday morning to watch live coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing. History in the making, indeed. We knew this was a major event among the many stories of the summer. We also were given the day off from school on Monday.
A lesser-known quote from that first moon walk was Buzz Aldrin’s. “My first words of my impression of being on the surface of the moon that just came to my mind was ‘magnificent desolation.'”
Most of the things that captured my interest then and often now were worthless bits of information. So much of our entertainment and even stories presented as newsworthy are a waste of time. In 1961, FCC Chairman Newton Minow called television a “vast wasteland.” And with the internet and social media, how much more true is this now! But across this vast media wasteland, we are still called to pay attention.
I can’t stand to watch the traditional media’s nightly news anymore. However, I gather bits and pieces from a wide variety of other sources. The problem with history in the making is that we don’t always know what will be significant in the long run in real-time. Only time will tell what’s important as more facts are gathered and the story takes its place in a greater context.
The Biblical idea of desolation is among the major curses of God for Israel’s idolatry and disobedience. When enemies attacked, they came with violence and destruction. They killed many inhabitants and carried the rest into exile. They destroyed cities and land, leaving it “a desolation and a wasteland.” There are many verses about this punishment throughout the Major and Minor Prophets.
Jeremiah 4:27 For thus says the LORD, “The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.
This is where the idea of a remnant is so essential. God always left a remnant of His faithful ones. The remnant carried the truth. They preserved the history. They paid attention.
May we be among the remnants.
I try to pay attention but sometimes suffer from information overload. I have a thirst for knowledge, but I get overwhelmed by too much of everything. And combing through the wasteland, I often get the idea that our world is pretty close to desolate now in a spiritual sense.
But despite all that, there is still good news. There are positive things out there and right here. God is still on the throne. The earth is also a “magnificent desolation.”
My respite comes from gardening, mundane life-maintenance tasks, and spiritual disciplines: Scripture, Christian music, prayer, solitude, and silence. Sometimes a fun outing with friends is still an escape for my inner sixteen-year-old self. And some nights, my husband and I sit outside, enjoying looking up at that same moon that still has footprints planted 53 years ago.