How Spock Saved My Life

Of Star Trek, Stories and Leonard Nimoy’s Passing

If you’ve ever seen the documentary Trekkies, you know that Star Trek fans come in many flavors. Some are just generally weird and a little scary, while others are people for whom the optimistic message of the series is something of a lifesaver. I’m one of those people who rests mostly in the latter group. Except my left leg, of course; it’s stuck in the former.

When I was a little kid, perhaps five or six, I suppose, things at home weren’t always especially great. As a result, holding onto the positive things was especially important for me, and the brightest star in my sky was Star Trek. When my father was working, he worked a lot. Long hours, musty trucks and countless miles of road spanned the time between when he left and when he returned. And as any five-year old can tell you, the time when dad comes home is pretty important.

In those days, that time was just around midnight, which happened to coincide with the time that Star Trek reruns aired. He’d come home, take off his big, filthy trucker boots and heat up something on the stove (microwaves weren’t a household thing yet), and I’d tip-toe out of my bedroom and sit on the couch. He’d sit down, turn on the TV–which I’d pre-set to the right channel before bed–and we’d watch Star Trek and eat whatever it was he’d heat up. For some reason I’m thinking tamales, though I’m sure it must have varied.

Those moments were a bright spot. When days would come and work was short, home life was harsh and it was difficult to know whether we’d be living in the same place one month to the next or shuffled off to someplace new. There was the strange smell of pot or meth, shouting and bickering and, a little too often, the violent smashing of objects and people.

When the bad moments came, I’d retreat into the good moments, the times where Mr. Spock used his logical brain to solve a problem or shed some beneficial light on the situation at hand. Between his logic and the hell-bent optimism of Kirk, McCoy, Sulu and the rest, all focused on finding a positive outcome for the predicament of the week, I always knew that somehow, something better was out there, and if somebody would just focus on figuring it out, we could find it.

Of course, I was five or six years old, and logic doesn’t exactly come easy when you’re too young to really know what it is, to say nothing of the experience of feeling constantly afraid, unable to count on the continuity of almost anything or when you might say or do just the wrong thing. But there, too, Mr. Spock showed me something to which I could relate: an inner turmoil, two halves desperate to be integrated, yet seemingly torn apart by opposing forces.

But whatever struggle came, week after week, episode after episode, Spock and his space family always figured out a positive outcome, even when it seemed like none was possible. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was always hopeful, and it was always honest. Like a lot of us, Spock was often pulled in several directions, and he showed us how to persevere.

Since Leonard Nimoy passed away a couple of days ago, I’ve been reflecting a bit on just what it was that ever stuck out to me about Star Trek. The more I consider it, the more I realize that it’s that unwavering spirit, that unabashed view that no matter how difficult the trials we face may be, there’s always a way through, always a thought, a feeling, a moment of saving grace in which, if we look deep inside and pull from the best within ourselves, we can use to overcome hardship.

It’s been over thirty years since I was that five or six-year-old kid. In the time since, I’ve walked through more kinds of hell than I’d wish on almost anyone, but I’ve always come through, always emerged just a little better on the other side. And in the darkest moments, one thing that always remained constant, especially when I felt the most torn apart, the most ready to give up, was that sense that something better is out there, and I just have to figure out a way to get to it. Just like Spock always did. Just like Star Trek taught me, and now half a century of people, to believe. The best people in my life reinforce these ideas through their actions and examples.

So, thank you, Spock, and by extension the irreplaceable Leonard Nimoy, for giving me something beautiful and hopeful to hold aloft in my darkest hours. But for you, I don’t know if I could have seen the way forward, many times.

Goodbye, Mr. Nimoy. Wherever your journey now takes you, may the wind be at your back.

%d bloggers like this: