You know how those old enough to remember when JFK was assassinated can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news? Well, I remember that sad day in 1963, but I’ll also never forget the day of the first moon landing, July 20, 1969.
That was the day I had my immigration interview at the American Consulate in Rome. My admission to the United States depended on that interview, and I was very nervous. I was admitted to the consul’s office very soon after I arrived.
He was a polite and deferential older gentleman who started by asking a lot of questions about my life in Romania, my childhood and youth, my career and, especially, about why I had taken the drastic step of leaving Romania — and all my family — to seek a new life, alone, so far away from all I had known.
Luckily, I knew English well enough to give satisfactory answers to all his questions. Our conversation was already going on for about 20 minutes when a secretary came in and told him something in a low voice. He seemed very excited and turning toward me said, “They let me know that the moon landing will start shortly. Would you like to join me in our conference room to see it on television?”
Of course, I said yes. It was such a wonderful, generous offer, one that I did not expect; it warmed my heart. I knew from the papers the landing was to take place that day, but I did not expect to be able to see it. So there we were, he the American consul in Italy, and me, a poor, insignificant emigrant, going together to witness the moon landing.
The conference room was spacious, totally dark, with about 20 rows of chairs tightly packed and mostly occupied. The only feeble light was from a large screen on which blurred gray-and-white images flickered. The lunar module could be seen in a corner of the screen sitting on the pocked surface of the moon. I could hear the voice of the commentator but could not understand much of what he was saying. The consul and I sat down next to each other.
After a while of nothing happening, we saw the door of the module open slowly, and the first astronaut slowly and cautiously step down, almost floating on the few steps and lightly touching the surface of the moon. Somewhere in that momentous sequence I remember Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, uttering the words that became famous: “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Everybody in the room cheered and applauded loudly. Some people hugged and kissed. It was total euphoria. This explosion of collective, sincere happiness and civic pride was so new to me; I started to love the Americans.
I was surprised how Armstrong walked on the moon in small jumps, but understood that this was because of the lower gravity.
After a while the consul motioned to me to leave. We left the dark room and once outside it he shook my hand and said, “I am sure you’ll make a fine citizen of our country. You’ll get your approval in a short while.”
I thanked him profusely for being so kind and understanding, and for allowing me to see the unique event of the first moon landing. I left the consulate elated, walking on air, floating almost like Neil Armstrong.
Less than a month later, on Aug. 13, 1969, I was touching American soil for the first time at Kennedy Airport. I also had landed.
Fifty years later, I still gratefully remember that kind man who let me, a humble emigrant, share a unique experience in the history of humanity.
The first moon landing and my approval for admission in America will be forever tied in my mind and soul as simultaneous miraculous events worth celebrating.
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