I missed my 30th Anniversary yesterday. No, not my wedding anniversary, that one I have down pat, thank you. My 30th anniversary of working at NASA.
Gosh, I feel really old saying that. When I started it was all the old guys who said things like that. But you know it seems like yesterday. That is an old guy thing to say, too.
As it turns out, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I have been very lucky – very blessed – to have these opportunities and to take part in this wonderful and noble endeavor.
When I got the job offer from NASA, my father — a small businessman — jokingly said he was going to disown me for going on the government dole. It was as if working for the government was something only the lazy would do. Hmm. My experience has been anything but. A lot of folks like to denigrate government workers. There may be some places where that is valid, but in my observation — and not just at NASA — government service is full of people who are dedicated, hardworking, and trying to make a difference.
Besides, I would have willingly paid them to let me set foot in the door at NASA. I still can’t believe I get a paycheck to do what is so much fun every day. Well, most days it is fun.
The most striking memory from reporting on my first day was the surprise I had when the human resources guy told me to raise my right and swear the oath. I hadn’t counted on that!
Modeled on the one the President has to say on inauguration day, the one in the Constitution — I looked it up — Article II Section 1. Very nearly the same oath that our servicemen and women swear when they report for duty: “I will, to the best of my abilities, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Funny coincidence, but unconscious of my anniversary date, I went yesterday to see it. In a few free minutes before reporting to my duty station on the Mall in the NASA tent at the folklife festival, I went to see the Declaration, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, and the Magna Carta too; all at the National Archives. I stood in line with the rest of the tourists, visited the hushed atrium, and bent over the sturdy cases to read the ink that has nearly faded away. Just a few minute break in the early part of the day. But how meaningful.
Wow. That oath I swore when I started work was NOT to get us back to the moon ,or to do my best to successfully launch rockets, but to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. Of course, Federal law and regulations being what they are, successfully launching rockets and helping the nation get back to the moon is part of my little niche in the government. But it is important to remember the larger picture.
As Americans, we don’t swear allegience to a person, nor to a particular parcel of land, nor to a group of people; rather we commend our best and hardest work to . . . an idea.
An idea of fairness, justice, and democracy. Certain inalienable rights, including the notion that everybody counts. A basic perspective which includes a particular way of living and a strong perspective on other people. The right to pursue happiness as we see fit.
How different that is from other oaths that have been sworn in other places at other times.
We all have to do something in this life. I have been fortunate enough to work on exciting and interesting projects. But we are all required to work on building a better America.
How I wish that Katherine Lee Bates had been right when she wrote: “Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears”. That is not true, not by a long shot. But I reckon it is our job to make those words become true. That is what the idea is all about. It will take hard work, and probably a long time. But it seems that I’ve signed on to that goal. I hope you will, too.
This is a long way from the topics that I intended to put in this blog. Maybe this is a more fit topic for next week.
Its been a great 30 years. I hope I get to do this for another 30!
See you next week.