How many of you who recently watched that large rover drop softly onto the soil of Mars felt a wave of nostalgia sweep through your little-green-man genes?
How many of you were stricken with pangs of primeval homesickness when you saw that robotic representation of our kind prove that we can, too, go home again? After all, some say Mars is where we came from, not as living beings but as part of the Martian organic chemistry set.
Some of the stuff that has become us was blasted from the face of Mars eons ago by meteors colliding with that planet, tossing fragments of our red neighbor into space. Some of it came to ancient Earth, making it possible to build living things. In that sense, we came partly from Mars, not to mention also from stardust.
No wonder the Mars landing makes us wish we could go back and see where we came from.
It’s the scientific equivalent of following your genealogy to some village in Ireland or Africa or China or Chile to find distant relatives. When we meet distant cousins in other lands, we often have little else in common. Nonetheless, a warm glow of instinctive kinship gladdens the hearts of all participants.
Why should making contact with original carbon and other elements of human life found on Mother Mars be any different emotionally from hugging some old European aunt we have never met before and will never see again?
Thomas Wolfe says “You can’t go home again.” Most of us have experienced the truth of that assertion. You visit your old hometown, but it’s not the same.
Oh, people you once knew are still there, but they are greatly changed by time. They are widowed and divorced. They are missing teeth and wearing doctor-sculpted noses. They are bankrupt or suddenly wealthy. They are the same people, but not quite the same people.
Some are dead – the barber who gave you flattop haircuts, your favorite history teacher, your wonderful old family beagle and even, alas, that neighbor girl who taught you how to smooch. They’re all gone. And worst of all, your grandpa’s gone, too. What kind of cruel home town doesn’t have your grandpa anymore?
Some hometowns change massively. I spent the early years of my life on the outskirts of Kuna, Idaho, a little farm town of 600. Today, it’s gone. In its place is a Boise bedroom community of little houses all in a row.
Oh, I like the fact Kuna now has a Mexican restaurant, but the soda fountain where I used to drink strawberry milkshakes is gone. What kind of hometown loses its soda fountains along with its grandpas?
However, a friend tells me she went back for the first time in decades to her small childhood town in the Midwest. She insists it hadn’t changed a bit. Everything was exactly the same.
How boring. Or maybe it is she who has remained the same – on the inside. Her homesick imagination looks at a missing town through yesterday’s eyes and keeps it perfectly preserved.
But lost towns aren’t all bad. The more I see that modern Mexican restaurant in Kuna, the better I adjust to reality. After all, I have also changed. Today, I’d rather have an enchilada than a strawberry milkshake.
If I really try – if I click my magic ruby-red farm boots together and repeat the phrase “There’s no place like home” – I almost believe that the red Mexican chili powder on my enchilada is a chemical descendent of that red dust back home on Mars.Contact columnist Bill Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501.