Wednesday, July 31, 2019

July 19, 2019

The Sun is descending over the hills of western Maryland, and I watch from the observation car of the Capitol Limited, bound from Washington, DC, to Chicago.  It is July 19, 2019, and I am celebrating.

It is the fiftieth anniversary of Apollo 11.  The 19th, as I recall, is when Apollo entered lunar orbit.  The 20th will find me in Chicago, wandering a city I have not been in since 1990.  The hour of the Moon landing will find me ducking into a movie theater to watch the new Apollo 11 documentary.

It's not just the Moon landing anniversary that I am celebrating.  Some time ago I chose July 19, 2019, as the last day of my Foreign Service career.  Even in this 21st century world, we have mandatory retirement for age.  I reach that age in August.  I have had my farewell in our Office of Global Programs; Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.  It has been a very good year, a year for which I am indebted to NLL, BL, and UCB.  Without them, I would have resigned a year ago.  IW, an impressively talented young woman, is fully trained and takes over for me on Monday.  My office life, a life that began on the Monday after Thanksgiving in 1978, is over.

Has it really been over forty years?  If this is a life changing moment, it can't be retirement.  It must be high school graduation.  Nixon is still in office, isn't he?  Watergate is only on the horizon, and scarcely anyone outside of Georgia has heard of a certain peanut farmer named Carter.  My life is still ahead of me, a life full of promise but clouded by a secret for which I scarcely had a word in 1972 America.

The choice of watching the sunset from the Capitol Limited on this July 19, 2019, is intentional.  It was after another space first that I watched the sunset from this observation car in August 1990.  Hubble Space Telescope had been launched in April, and I like many on the project had been working all out with launch and early mission support as we struggled to get beyond Hubble trouble.  With that as backdrop, I had applied for and received a one week research fellowship at the University of Illinois to complete my Slavic Review article on the 1936-37 purge of Soviet astronomers, the second career that had consumed my non-Hubble hours for six years, in the process giving me a way to run from myself by being fully occupied all the time.  It was on the train to Chicago that I came to grips for the first time with the reality that I could no longer run from myself.  I had to tell my long-suspecting spouse and my family.  That decision led to the deep, dark valley of a psychiatric ward with many more peaks and valleys to come.

I watched the 1969 Moon landing from the home of my aunt and uncle in Michigan.  It was the space program of the 1960s that led to my first career as an attitude analyst.  It was my inner secret that gave me a lifelong love of Russian literature, culture, and history.  In the days of the Soviet Union, Russian society differed entirely from the one I had grown up in, an other that was as different from U.S. reality as my outer, public face was different from the inner face I kept carefully hidden. 

Watching the 2019 sunset from the Capitol Limited is an entirely joyous experience.  Thanks to that decision taken with such trepidation in 1990, I have made it through.  I have become myself, no longer with inner secrets.  I have had a second career and have traveled and lived in almost all the Russian-speaking world.

A new phase is beginning.  The 1969 Moon landing and high school are both behind me now.  With, I hope, many more sunsets to come, I turn my thoughts to where this next phase may lead.

Harper's Ferry from the Capitol Limited