— David Bowie
From “Space Oddity,” 1969
British rock legend David Bowie sent the music world spinning 44 years ago with the release of a haunting lyric about an astronaut named Major Tom who lived the dream of space travel.
Whether he died in its wake is debate best left to the critics and anyone well-versed in the interpretation of symbolic messaging.
Me? Heck, I don’t know. I just love the song.
Bowie called it “Space Oddity.”
According to published reports, he wrote and recorded it shortly after viewing the Hollywood classic, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Some suggest he might have been flying a little high himself the night he watched the flick. If true, further explanation seems pointless.
But the tune touched millions worldwide — not because of a catchy beat nor soulful words, but because of its story. A man was living his dream of a space walk and his heroics were capturing the imagination of a race of people — the human race — 100,000 miles below.
“This is Ground Control to Major Tom; you’ve really made the grade; and the papers want to know whose shirts you wear; now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare.”
The lyric popped into my head early last week when a co-worker reminded me, “Fame is fleeting.”
It’s another way of saying just when you feel like you’re on top of the world, somebody goes and pulls the ladder right out from under you. But those few moments of personal reward are well worth the time, the wait and the energy burned in making the climb.
Major Tom must have thought so, too. He lived the moment. He embraced the day.
“This is Major Tom to Ground Control; I’m stepping through the door; and I’m floating in a most peculiar way; and the stars look very different today.”
I floated a few days ago. It’s why my co-worker said what he said. And that’s when I thought of Major Tom.
In newspaper work, you don’t often bask in the rays of accolades. Truth is, that’s not why most folks get into it. Those who do don’t stay long. You get into newspapering because of a love affair for the printed word. You yearn to write and your aim is to do it well. Sometimes you fail, and that’s when detractors come pounding on the door. They are your reality check.
Yet, on occasion ... just every now and then ... somebody says, “Thank you, job well done.”
For me, it happened a week ago. The membership of the Cleveland Media Association gave me a reason to believe. In their annual Christmas luncheon, I was rendered speechless. As our newsroom staff will tell you, that just doesn’t happen.
On this day, the CMA presented me with the group’s Excellence in Communications Award.
Was I floored? Sarah Palin might have said it best: “You betcha!”
After accepting the award from its 2006 winner, Cameron Fisher — who is about 10 feet taller than me, as photographs will attest — I said a few words. I have no idea what. It might have made sense. It might not have.
Regardless, I was on top of the world. I was afraid to look down because I didn’t want this feeling to end. Nor did Major Tom.
“For here am I floating around my tin can; far above the world; Planet Earth is blue; and there’s nothing I can do.”
For just a few breaths, I — like Major Tom — understood the secret of life. It had nothing to do with wealth. It carried no connection to possessions of glittery gold nor sparkling silver. It wasn’t even about a pretty blue plaque whose deep shade of aqua was as calming as the astronaut’s view from high above.
It was about the dream. It was about the quest. It was about the climb.
And in the end, it was about the experience.
Like Major Tom, I embraced a feel-good moment like none before. Major Tom was thankful for his, as was I. His peers, those with whom he shared the dream of space, rocketed him to great heights previously unknown.
Those folks in the Cleveland Media Association may never know how they helped me to soar. Try as I might, I can probably never explain.
But I can do this. I can thank them. And I can make it a genuine one.
Yet, for Major Tom, the thrill may have signaled an end.
“Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles, I’m feeling very still; and I think my spaceship knows which way to go; tell my wife I love her very much (she knows!)”
I love mine as well, but I hope I have many miles yet to go. As does she.
To say I floated back to the office that afternoon bearing the plaque under one arm would be an understatement. I was still soaking in the view from Major Tom’s clouds with little reason to come down.
That’s when the phone rang ... within 10 minutes of my return.
I answered. The angry caller was seething that our newspaper had failed to publish another reminder about the starting time for the Christmas parade. He claimed we had failed the community. I leaned back in my chair, glancing away from the wooden plaque of heavenly blue.
His choice words stung. Phrases like “sorry excuse,” “worthless rag” and “piece of garbage” stole the day.
I stared at a blank wall and envisioned my co-worker’s nod as he mouthed his knowing words, “... fame is fleeting.”
As the piercing diatribe melted a path to my ear, I sighed at the sound of a robotic voice rising from somewhere deep within my soul.
“Welcome back to Earth, Major Tom. Ground Control has been waiting.”