What are you like at your best?

My husband and I go to the movies every Monday night. Its our date-night! We flip-flop between art-house and Hollywood. By art house I mean going to a small theatre ten minutes from our house, where we can have a glass of wine before the movie but nothing during it. Also, there’s no choice, we see the movie that’s on this week or we go home (or we go to Hollywood). Hollywood means we can have wine, soft drinks, sweets, tacos or popcorn, before during or even after the movie and we get a choice of about eight movies. The art-house movies are varied and different and could be from almost any country in the world and in any language (plus English subtitles). The Hollywood movies are, generally, from The USA, the UK or sometimes Ireland.

Last Monday night we choose art-house. The movie was called In the Shadow of the Moon. It was a collection of interviews (well, face to camera, with no interviewer, whatever that’s called?) with the surviving astronauts from the Apollo missions of the 60’s and 70’s, and also a huge amount of video footage from that time.

Last year our family had the opportunity to visit Cape Canaveral in Florida and I was really enthralled by the exhibition of the Apollo artifacts. There was just something about that time and about their efforts to follow a dream with only the equivalent computer processing power of a calculator!

In the movie the men told of their experiences on the space program. The interviews were shot really close-up, making it possible to see all the lines and shadows of their faces. In the beginning I found this distracting, then a funny thing started to happen. As the movie progressed there were times when the screen was split down the middle showing on one half an astronaut telling about some work he did as part of the mission while the other half showed him as a young man doing that work, full of seriousness, energy and life. That’s when I became aware of a more complete picture of an old man and the faces became beautiful to me.

There was one man who was my favourite – Mike Collins. He was a member of the Apollo 11 team, the one that landed on the moon. While Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin got to do the walk Mike Collins circled the moon and picked them up to go home. I got the impression that he was the joker of the group and nothing had changed in the intervening 40 years – he’s still very funny. He talked about not wanting to make a mistake (screw-up), especially in front of “three billion people”.

Mike said at one point that he was on the dark side of the moon and on the other side was Neil and Buzz and the earth with all it’s inhabitants. On his side there was only him and yet he didn’t feel alone, he felt part of everything. That was something that came up a few times – being a part of something bigger. Mike and Neil and Buzz did a tour of the world after their moon tour and Mike said people saw their success as the world’s success also. In different counties they told him “We did it!”, and they meant the human race did it, we made it to the moon.

Working with people one of the questions I ask them is “What are you like at your best?”. Some people know straight away and others take a little longer, but when they find their answer and talk about the experience, the effect it has on them is profound. The effect they have on me is also profound, its why I love my work.
If you get a chance go see this movie. Listen to the men talk about their experiences, see their eyes light up and the years fall away when they relive that time. Then think about what you are like when you’re at your best. It may help to think about an activity you love doing, remember the last time you did that activity. It can be as simple as walking the dog, driving the car or maybe you went to the moon! It’s not the activity that’s important it’s how you are when you experience it. Experience it again, in your mind, now. Let go and fly back there. When you can do this you are connecting with you – the you without all the other stuff attached. By other stuff I mean your daily life, family, work, bills, problems……. The funny thing is that from here its easier to deal with the other stuff, because it’s not part of you, it’s just stuff.

The thing I didn’t realise was President John F Kennedy made a speech in 1961 telling the American nation that he wanted to land a man on the moon and bring him home safely before the decade was out. At the time of his speech all the rockets being tested were exploding. This did not prevent the men in this movie from joining the program and putting their lives on the line for a dream. Apollo 11 landed on the moon in July 1969, within the time limit set by a man who was by then dead. Somehow having a goal and a time frame allowed them to go beyond what they thought possible.

In 1969 when I was 8 and my Mum insisted that I watch the news to see a man stand on the moon, I wasn’t interested. So she told me it was important because no one had ever done that before and you never know the moon might just fall down! That got me watching and I’m glad now that I was one of the three billion people around the world who heard Neil Armstrong say “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

What are YOU like at your best?