28 February 2015

Leonard Nimoy

“I have been and always shall be your friend.”

Growing up, my brother and I divided everything, much as Spain and Portugal once divided the globe between them. He got blue, I got red. He got Mickey Mouse, I got Donald Duck. And when we got older, he got Mr. Spock, I got Dr. McCoy. I’m not complaining: Donald and McCoy suited me. And yet since learning yesterday of the death of Leonard Nimoy, I’ve been on the brink of highly illogical tears.

Nimoy’s Spock was a grand creation, “the most human” soul in the universe, as Kirk once said, able to withstand the vagaries of scriptwriting and special effects, rising to the loftiest rank of popular culture. When I was a boy, I saw mostly Spock’s devotion to science — another of my brother’s territories — and his steely resistance to human emotion. I rather liked emotion, and I still do. So I wound up with McCoy.

Yet looking at Spock now, I see something else. Quite a number of people, including the President of the United States, talk about how Spock was different, an alien among earthlings on the Enterprise and a half-human among Vulcans. Yet Spock chose his sides: he held himself to the Vulcan standard. And he failed.

Spock’s failures were glorious to witness. Logic didn’t dictate that he snipe at McCoy, but wasn’t it fun when he did? When spores, or pon farr, or mind control, or some other force broke down his defenses, Spock fell in love or raging lust, he laughed and cried. Emotions were uncomfortable for him, and yet Nimoy made us see that Spock always felt them, that he had to work to keep them down, and that he was terribly lonely as a result.

Somehow he found friends who understood what he felt for them, who recognized what a tremendous gift Spock’s love must be. It took Dr. McCoy longer to realize this — we recall with fondness Bones’ “who, me?” reaction in “Amok Time,” when Spock invites him to be a best man at his wedding. Later, in Star Trek II and the most significant of all mind-melds, we also saw that, in the irascible old country doctor, Spock chose the right vessel for his “most human” soul.

Kirk knew from the beginning that Spock’s deepest feelings were reserved for him alone. It’s not terribly surprising that slash fiction as a genre developed from this relationship, a friendship so loving and so rare that some people can hardly understand it without sexualizing it somehow. That’s a shame.

Star Trek brought my brother and me together at an age when we shared less and less. It also brought us into a circle of friends — oddballs like us, too smart for our own good, too stubborn to fit in with other kids. For earlier viewers of the show, Star Trek presented a vision of a hopeful future, primarily because the Earth hadn’t been destroyed in a nuclear war, and because the bridge was peopled with a black woman, an Asian man, and a resolutely Soviet-style Russian.

For our little gang, though, I believe hope sprang from a different source: the idea that, some day in the future, we would be valued, not bullied, for our intelligence. We would find friends. We would explore the galaxy. We would live out our adventures — as a crew. Just the way we used to pile into a van to attend Star Trek conventions. Maybe we looked silly, but that was only the beginning of our voyages. We were certain of it.

My brother wanted to be so very much like Spock, and in failing, he has succeeded. He feels so deeply that nothing, not science, not logic, not any remedy at all can suppress his emotions — whether he shows them or not. Spock might not approve, but he’d understand.

I might have understood, too, a little sooner, if I’d taken the time to analyze my brother. But teenage boys are not tricorders. It took me years to see that Spock really does live in my brother. There’s beauty in that.

So I’m grieving today. For Spock and the actor who played him. For the boys we are no more, for the timeworn friendships we made and the vanished dreams we shared. For the sense that the future would always be infinite.


Girl From Texas said...


Lincoln Madison said...

I finally understood that the only thing more illogical than human emotions, is to deny that we have them.