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…,
“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.
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.
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