Tag Archives: Family

Sometimes Spock • Always Nimoy

You could say that I grew up in a Star Trek family.

We were not what most people think of as ‘Trekkies’.  We neither plastered our walls with the posters, nor cluttered our shelves with memorabilia.  There were no uniform shirts or foam ears hiding in our closets, and the car in the driveway was bumper-sticker free.

Still, there were a few books floating around the house, including a technical manual, replete with ship schematics and tricorder designs.  There were a couple assembled model kits on a shelf in my room, the U.S.S. Enterprise (of course) and an old Klingon cruiser, unsightly decals peeling.  And I think that at one point, there may have been a snow-globe in the living room, with a tiny Enterprise inside.  Although, I think it was glitter in there, rather than snow, to give the impression of passing stars.

In any case, we watched the show whenever it was on.  And sometimes, on Sunday mornings, on our way home from church, we’d play Star Trek trivia in the car.  One of us would recite a line of dialogue or name a character, alien or object, and the others had to try to name the episode.

“Yonada,” my mother might say.

And I would answer, “For the World is Hollow and I have Touched the Sky.”

And the game would continue…,

“Tranya…,”

“I need a hint…,”

“It was a drink…,”

“Oh, I know this, the one with the giant ship made out of ping-pong balls…,”

“The Corbomite Maneuver!”

We enjoyed the escapism of the show, the optimism and the whacky alien costumes.  As a family we discussed the not-so hidden social messages contained within many of the better episodes.

The show, and its characters, were a part of our household shorthand.

And, if I had a hero growing up, it was probably Mr. Spock.

I say “if” because I’ve never given the question much thought.

Did, I have a hero, growing up?

Superman was pretty cool, but as a child, I didn’t understand why someone with so much power had to pretend to be someone else.

Batman, at that time, was still the television version, played by Adam West.  He and Robin appeared to be costumed buffoons, surrounded by enemies who were more of the same.  Fun to watch, yes, but definitely not hero material.

There were Frodo and Sam, and Robin Hood, and the Knights of the Round Table, who all lived on the printed page, and in a world just a bit too remote from my own, to truly identify with them.

On the silver screen, I watched Luke and Han, the presumptive cinematic heroes of my generation, fighting an uphill battle against the Galactic Empire.  Yet I never idolized them the way some others seemed to do.

I suppose, Dr. Indiana Jones would qualify as one of my childhood heroes.  I liked that he was an intellectual, an expert on ancient cultures and civilizations, who was also perfectly capable of kicking some Nazi ass.  In those days, it seemed like most characters who used their brains were either nerdy supporting characters, or villains bent on ruling the world.

And in that respect, if in no other, Indy was very much like Mr. Spock.

Classic Mr. Spock

Spock was an intellectual giant who was willing to surround himself with people who did not like him, for the opportunity to learn more.  And he wasn’t a weakling, like most ‘smart’ characters.  His Vulcan heritage gave him a physical strength more than twice that of a normal human, and while he might prefer to use the Vulcan Nerve Pinch to take out an opponent, he wasn’t shy about throwing a punch or whipping out a phasor, when the situation called for violence.

Spock was both human and alien, meaning he was often an outcast in both worlds.  For those of us who, as children, never quite felt we fit in with the other kids, this was a pretty big deal.  Especially considering, when Kirk was away, it was Spock sitting in the big chair, with everyone looking for him to make the hard decisions.

What’s more, Spock was in constant conflict with his emotions, struggling to maintain the Vulcan calm that was all too often mistaken for a complete lack of emotion.

Growing up, as I did, with a father for whom rage often seemed like the default setting, I come by my own anger issues quite naturally.  And Spock was there for me, at an early age, to show me an alternative to letting my own base emotions run free.  I know that I have been a poor student in that regard, and although more than one friend has cursed me over the years for my “damned Vulcan logic,” I am far too often made a slave to my own feelings.

Still, I can’t help but think I am a better person for having tried to follow his example.

Fictional, though he was.

Leonard Nimoy has died, and here I am talking about Spock.

Because that is how I knew him.

Without Nimoy, there would have been no Spock.  Whatever Roddenberry had planned, whatever the writers cranked out, it was Leonard Nimoy who breathed life into the character, and influenced him in ways that have become an inexorable part of what we think of when we say the name.

He may have done too good a job.

“Do I have an identity issue?  Of course I do.  You know, somebody yells “Spock” on the street, and I’m the one who turns his head…,”

—Leonard Nimoy, Dallas ComicCon 2011

There are those fans out there who have trouble distinguishing between the character and the actor, but I’ve never had that problem.  My mother is a living database of every actor and every role they have ever played.  I swear, the woman could put IMDB to shame.

As a result, I grew up watching Nimoy’s performances on more programs than I could easily name.  There were the westerns and Twilight Zone episodes and of course, Mission Impossible.  No, it was always clear to me that Mr. Spock was a work of art, and Nimoy, the artist.

In later years I have seen some examples of his photography and been truly impressed.

And only recently, as you will see, was I introduced to his skill as a poet.

Nimoy and Spock

When I heard that he had died, I was saddened by the loss of a great man, who was sometimes Spock, but always Nimoy.  I spent the rest of the day celebrating his life as best I could, by watching again my favorite episodes of the original series, and then ‘Wrath of Kahn’, and finally, skipping ahead to the last few minutes of ‘Search for Spock’.  Because, like his crew mates, I know that he will never really be dead, as long as we remember.

I had the chance to meet him once, a few years ago.  I could have stood in a line and paid to have him sign a photograph, all for the opportunity to shake his hand.

I didn’t want to, and I’m not sure why, except that the old line “never meet your heroes” kept going through my mind.  And so I made excuses, the line was too long, the price was too high.  As if either of those things could have made a difference.

Instead, I crowded into a room with a few hundred others.  I sat, maybe six rows back from where he stood, and listened to him speak in that familiar voice of his, about his life and his career, and what a deep honor it was to be appreciated by so many.  At the end of the hour, he left us with this, and it means more to me now, than any simple handshake ever could.

I am an incurable romantic.
I believe in hope, dreams and decency.

I believe in love, tenderness and kindness.

I believe in mankind.

I believe in goodness, mercy and charity.
I believe in a universal spirit.
I believe in casting bread upon the waters.

I am awed by the snow-capped mountains,
by the vastness of oceans.

I am moved by a couple of any age, holding hands,
as they walk through city streets.

A living creature in pain, makes me shudder with sorrow.
A seagull’s cry fills me with a sense of mystery.

A river or stream can move me to tears.
A lake, nestling in a valley, can bring me peace.

I wish for all mankind the sweet simple joy,
that we have found together.

I know that it will be.
And we shall celebrate.
We shall taste the wine,
and the fruit.

Celebrate the sunset and the sunrise,
the cold and the warmth,
the sounds and the silences,
the voices of the children.

Celebrate the dreams and hopes,
which have filled the souls
of all decent men and women.

We shall lift our glasses and toast,
with tears of joy.

May you all live long and prosper.

— Leonard Nimoy, Dallas ComicCon 2011

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Filed under Culture, Family, Heroes, Modern Life, Movies, Spiritual Journey, Television

Close Encounters

You can’t give an experience.

Items, on the other hand, make easy gifts.  You find just the right book perhaps, or some knick-knack for around the house.  You pull it off the shelf, pay for it, wrap it up, jam it under the tree, and you are done.

Experiences are another story.

We can’t buy them and they don’t come pre-packaged.

We can set up the circumstances, perhaps, but in the end, an experience has a life all of its own, and it will ‘be’ whatever it chooses to be.

You can not give an experience.  They have no tolerance for being bought or sold.

An experience, good or bad, may only be shared.

CloseEncounters

On Yule morning last, as we exchanged gifts, I revealed to my mother that on the second weekend of February, she would be meeting one of her all-time favorite actors, Richard Dreyfuss – my gift to her.

The plan had been hatched only a few weeks before, when I learned that Mr. Dreyfuss would be attending a local sci-fi convention.  From that moment on, the wheels began to turn, tickets were purchased, preparations made, plans…, ummmm, planned.

On the surface it seemed pretty simple: we go, we get in line, she gets an autograph.

Easy – As – Pie.

Except, of course, that there is so much that can go wrong.  Circumstances beyond our control may dash even the most carefully constructed scheme.  It’s maddening.

Items are so much easier – buy it, wrap it, and done.

Experiences I fret over, and needlessly.

We can’t control them.

We can only share them.

And share them, we did!

It was an incredible weekend!

There were crowds to wade through with all the attendant bumps and bruises and a fair helping of “hurry up and wait.”  There were scheduling snafus, parking adventures, and the gastronomic ‘roll-of-the-dice’ that is convention food.  There were all those things of which I have come to expect from the ‘Con’ experience, but which were completely new to my mother, and which I tried to ease her through.

And I should have known better.

Mom with Richard Dreyfuss

My mother, Kathleen, enjoying her encounter with Academy Award winning actor, Richard Dreyfuss.

My mother got to meet Richard Dreyfuss!  She got to shake his hand, get his autograph, and they even shared a memory of the first thing she ever saw him in (an old episode of ‘That Girl’ with Marlo Thomas – filmed in 1967, the year of my birth).  It’s been a long while since I’ve seen a smile quite that big on my mother’s face.

And I think she was buzzing too much to really even notice the crowds.

Later, we sat and listened to Mr. Dreyfuss speak passionately about his efforts to bring civics education back into the classroom, while still answering questions about shark movies.  He was funny, and down-to-earth, and inspiring in a genuine way that is rare among celebrities these days.

DreyfussAutograph

So she has the autograph, and a photo of herself with one of her cinema heroes.

But those are just objects.  They are ‘proof of contact’, yes, but of no real significance.

Far more important is the encounter, the experience, the story.

These are things not given, but shared.

I’m glad we could be there, Mom – to share in your ‘close encounter’.

This one was for you!

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Filed under Culture, Family, Heroes, Holidays, Modern Life, Movies

…and Everything Nice

She asked me to take her out into the snow.

The rest of the family, related by either blood or bond, and gathered for the yule/christmas celebration, is busy inside the house where the fire I have been tending keeps them warm.  Some have been trying to tidy the living room, still strewn with torn paper and bows from packages unwrapped.  The kitchen is a flurry of activity as the holiday meal is being prepared.  Talk and banter suffuse the toasty air inside.

But it’s snowing outside and Taylor wants to go out and play in it.

Back inside, an entire rainbow of new plastic toys litter the floor, forgotten.  Somewhere, an entire team of toy developers and marketing gurus are pulling their hair out in clumps as a little girl (and I hope, thousands, even millions like her) ignores the results of countless of hours of careful design and focus-group play-testing, in favor of the simple magic of crunching her way through fresh snowfall.

I watch her stretching out her arms to catch the falling crystals, and I am glad.

Taylor In The Snow

I have never wanted children of my own.

It’s not that I don’t like them.  I actually think kids are pretty fantastic, in small doses and under controlled conditions (as if anything is every really under control where children are concerned).

I also happen to be quite good with them.  This is a fact that often leaves those who think they know me well, but have never seen me around children, astonished.  I really don’t seem the type, but at gatherings where children are present, I often end up entertaining them.  Don’t tell anyone, but you can easily avoid dull conversation and engage in a fair bit of play when the other adults think you are just trying to keep the little ones occupied.

And they are so very hungry for attention from adults.  It makes them so happy to be noticed at all.

Most of the time, when I see children at my workplace, the poor things have been dragged along like baggage by their parents, busy running errands.  I see them gazing wide-eyed at all the people and things around them, trying to soak it all in.  Sometimes they are fussy, or bored, or angry, and usually because their parents are ignoring them.

They act out, and their parents scold them, and then go right back to ignoring them again.  I’m not a parent and I believe that I would make a very poor one, but I do know that if you only give your child attention when they misbehave (even if that attention is negative) they are going to act out all the more.

The children are watching us.  They study our every move, learning what they need to know to survive and to interact with others.  When you break your toys and then shout at me because you want them fixed, what lesson do you think you are teaching your children?  To whom will you complain when they treat you in the same manner?  What legacy will they then pass on to their own children?

Back outside, little Taylor is still wandering her way through a snow-covered fairyland.

She has new mittens but we forgot them inside and her hands are chilled in the winter air.  Her fingers hurt a little, she says, but she does not want to come in from the cold just yet and I don’t push the issue.  She’ll be okay for a few minutes more.

For the moment, she needs me to look out for her safety – yes, but not to ruin for her the magic of snow.  Kids are resilient, far more so then we typically give them credit for.  When her discomfort is enough she will want to come in on her own without me making the decision for her.  We will warm her hands by the fire and she will feel the prickling numbness which slowly gives way to warmth that I remember being fascinated with as a child.

Let her be a child while she still can.

We must teach her to make her own decisions about the world around her, because soon enough folks will be lining up to make them for her.

Already, the Madison Avenue people are doing all they can to shape her likes and wants.  They spew movies and cartoons which are little more than glorified advertisements, designed to sell their brightly colored bits of future landfill.

It will not be long now before the Texas State Board of Education, with it’s distorted views of history and science, gets its hooks into her.  How much longer before Political Parties and Fundamentalist Religions begin to vie for her attentions, desperate to fill their diminishing ranks.  These people don’t see a little girl, they see a resource waiting to be ground up and purified and made to power the engines of Rapacious Consumerism,  Religious Orthodoxy and Conformist Ideology.

I can’t protect her from that and neither can her parents.  No one can.

All I can do is to join her in play on those rare occasions we are gathered together.  I can show her that she is worthy of the attention she naturally craves.  I can show her that she does not have to be a slave to the wants of those who do not truly care for her well being, by not being a slave to them myself.

I can’t do it alone.

She is going to need many examples to follow if she is going to find her way out of the trap that our society has built for itself.  If the fates are kind, she will find others who will not let her forget that snow IS magical, and that the best part of herself will always be that happy little girl who was made of sugar and spice…,

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Filed under Culture, Family, Holidays, Modern Life

A Traditional Marriage

I am just back from attending a wedding over the weekend.  It happened this way:

As the family sat down to our evening meal there was a sudden commotion in the yard.  Venturing outside we found men on horseback, lanterns and torches held high, circling the cottage.  Without warning their leader rode forth and swept a young woman into his arms.  With his soon-to-be bride settled in front of him, he galloped off, followed by his kinsmen.  Just as the groom rode with his bride, his men did not ride alone, for each had been joined on horseback by maidens, there to attend the bride and protect her honor during the coming ride.

It was a very traditional marriage, except of course, that none of this actually happened.

It was actually a lovely wedding.  The ceremony was held on the beach at sunset.  There was a bride and a groom and Pachelbel’s Canon playing in the background.  It was everything you could expect of a traditional wedding ceremony, except perhaps that it wasn’t very “traditional” at all.

It was neither an arranged marriage nor was there an abduction and chase.  The groom did not pay any bride price to the family of his new wife.  At no time did the groom’s mother bless the fertility of the union by crumbling a small cake over the head of the bride.  None of these things happened despite thousands of years of ‘tradition’ leading up to this moment in time.

For all the shouting of politicians and the men behind the pulpits, there is no such thing as “Traditional Marriage”.  The “Whys” and “Hows” of marriage have changed dramatically over the centuries and will continue to do so as we move through the modern era.

The truth is that, as a culture, we seem to pick and choose our traditions with no real thought to their longevity.  Occasionally, people with an agenda will play fast and loose with history and religious texts to support their position.  Maybe some of them even believe what they are saying.  History, however, seldom supports them.

The most important thing here, the one true fact that we miss with all this debate over “Traditional Marriage”, is that two people (any two people) actually love each other enough to commit their lives, one to the other.  This is something that should be celebrated instead of being made into another excuse for divisiveness and hate.

I don’t know how many thousands of people (worldwide) got married this weekend.  I don’t know what traditions those people did or did not observe.  I only know that I was happy to be asked to celebrate the union of two of them.  I honor them for being so sure of their love for one another.  I worry for them, because they are so young and have so many trials ahead of them.  Love, Honor, Concern – maybe these are the only wedding traditions that really count.

***

On the other hand, maybe some of the old traditions really are worth bringing back.  I mean, doesn’t a brisk ride through the countryside at night sound a lot more appealing than worrying about what kind of centerpieces you should have at the reception?

 

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Filed under Culture, Family, Religion, Traditions