As 60% of the nation burns under desert temperatures, and just before we turn the corner into what is likely to be the most despair-inducing Fall Presidential campaign since Nixon-McGovern in 1972, let us stop and give thanks for the Rover, for Mr. Bolt, for fearlessness of mind and heart, and for the great pleasure of watching bodies do what we can do only in our best and most surreal dreams.
I have been watching the Olympics. I have been looking at Mars. Both should make us feel good to be human animals, up on our hind legs, smiling, delighted.
The Mars Rover, which successfully landed on Monday in the technological equivalent of a theatrical star-turn on stage, is a self-contained, one ton vehicle composed of analytic tools, and is the most sophisticated exploratory device created by the human race.
The successful journey to and landing on Mars is only the beginning. The Rover, aptly named Curiosity, has the tools necessary to figure out whether life might have existed there; that is the story which may change everything, the story that could lift us above all of our more transitory worries.
Romance is at the center of our attention to Mars – the romance of discovery, of risk-taking, of exploration, the romance of wonder, that most transcendent of emotions. Curiosity’s photos transport us to the surface of Mars and through its marvelous eyes, we will travel with her over 12 miles of Martian terrain in two years. Mars Landing
Curiosity will hum along at a top speed of one/tenth of a mph and will stop every few feet to gauge its path. For Curiosity, slow equals smart.
On all planets speed = distance over time, and there is no person on earth comparable to Usain Bolt in the active expression of that equation. With medals on the line, he ran at 27 mph. He covered 100 meters or 328 feet in 9.63 seconds. With every second that ticked away, he traveled 34 feet. For a long time to come, in my mind’s eye I will carry images of his enormous stride and focused strength; he looked like a man who had just discovered that he might actually be a god.
So many images of sublime effort and grace — the American women gymnasts flying off the vault and impossibly twisting above the crowd faster than the eye could follow; the Dutch gymnast whose three releases in a row on the high bar made him look like a falcon sporting in the air; the heavyweight Iranian, like a giant from an N.C Wyeth illustration, lifting over 540 pounds above his head, his body surging up as if rising from the earth; the beach volleyball team of Treanor and Jennings diving and blocking, seamlessly tethered to each other’s movements as if connected by strands of silk; the Ethiopian and Kenyan distance runners, stoically pushing to higher and higher levels of endurance.
The Olympics give us human beings of all colors and nations, of so many sizes and creeds but each attempting the same things — challenging the laws of physics, straining muscles to their breaking point, making the heart beat so fast and hard that the chest wall pushes outward, learning to lift up from the earth as if supernaturally free, defying gravity, all striving heroically against the frailty of their flesh.
We should give our species credit when our achievements show us at our very best as they do in the mechanized and yet dreamy brilliance of Curiosity and in the wonderous, mortal brilliance of Olympians.
Sometimes now when I train Wolfie in the back yard in the evening, lumbering like a crippled seal after him as he dashes to his toys, Wubba or Squeaker or Rope, I narrate our journey aloud, and in a continuous patter declare, “Usain Bolt is leaping off the earth, he’s levitating, but here comes the Wolf … oh … oh … it’s going to be tight, the Wolf is closing the gap, and at the line it’s ….” Oh, the joys of living through another, of imagining oneself as light-streams in human form coursing across the planet.