Who is going to replace him?
Not as a former astronaut and senator and Midwestern aw-shucks man who embodied the qualities Tom Wolfe summarized as The Right Stuff. But as someone who personifies all of the qualities we want to foster in young people.
Who are kids going to look up to these days? Athletes? I suppose. Tech billionaires? Sadly. Musicians? Talk Show Hosts? Comedians? Wise crackers on Twitter? People who share make-up tips on You Tube?
As a girl growing up I read biographies of people I hoped to emulate in some way. All of the obvious candidates: Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. Madam Curie. Joan of Arc. Martin Luther King. Laura Ingalls Wilder. Malcolm X. Booker T. Washington. Ishi.
I was just a little girl when John Glenn became the first American in space. He’s always been there, like the guys on the rock in South Dakota. Not so much a real person as an enormous symbol of good American things.
He was so much to so many, that President Kennedy wouldn’t let him go into space again. He was more valuable as a hero than as an actual astronaut. Much much later, in 1998, after he had been a senator for many years John Glenn flew on the Space Shuttle Discovery. Again he was a symbol.
He is one of those people who live so large in the imagination it is sometimes hard to remember that he is also a man.
Was also a man.