“The glory of creation is in its infinite diversity.”
“And in the ways our differences combine to create meaning and beauty.”
-Miranda and Spock, ‘Is there no truth in beauty?’
Last Friday, I went out with some friends after work, and in a rare fit of technological willpower, turned my phone on silent and slung it in my bag. So, it wasn’t until I was walking home, idly completing a quick grocery run, that I saw I had missed 6 different messages about Leonard Nimoy’s passing.
That was a week ago. I keep trying to explain why I burst into tears right there in the Tesco parking lot, to justify the continuing deep sense of loss I feel over the death of a man I have never met. I’ve watched the internet overflow with memorials for this extraordinary soul, wanting to contribute my own without being able to find the right words.
I may never have the right words, but these are the best ones I could come up with.
Generation after generation, Star Trek was the show that challenged us to strive for a better humanity, constantly tackling issues of race, religious freedom, different cultures, sexualities, gender identities … yes, these delicate topics were rarely handled perfectly, but Star Trek (almost) always tried. This is, for me, the true Trek phenomenon.
And all of that began with Spock.
When TOS was first piloted, Roddenberry had to lobby against NBC execs to keep Spock’s eyebrows and pointed ears. They were convinced the affect would be viewed as ‘satanic’ on a character who was already cold and logical, and yes, I suppose that the first thing that comes to mind when people think of Vulcans is ‘logic’.
But I will argue until I am blue in the face with anyone who claims that Vulcans are cold. Vulcans are a people who consciously choose, every day of their lives, to control their emotions, and whose traditions, from the Vulcan salute and live long and prosper all the way through the teachings of Surak and the rituals of the High Priestesses, are rooted in the deepest spirituality. Even the IDIC – which, ironically, Roddenberry introduced as a merchandising tactic over intense protest from the actors – grew over time to become the physical symbol of Star Trek‘s most important theme: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.
And all of that began with Leonard Nimoy.
Everyone who ever worked with him — Gene Roddenberry, William Shatner, Mark Lenard, Kirstie Alley…everyone — agrees that Nimoy was the mind and soul behind the identity of not only Spock but the entire Vulcan race. And just look where he took them. Vuclans could have been what many sci-fi aliens are: a window through which we could view the nature of humanity. They were that, of course, but Nimoy made them so much more.
See, Kirk was the swashbuckling, romantic space cowboy, and McCoy was the comically grouchy and somewhat xenophobic voice of skepticism — human characters, plucked straight from our present and placed in a utopic future, just like Uhura, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov. But Vulcans, especially Spock, they represented the type of humanity that Star Trek tells us we could be someday: Non-violent. Logical. Accepting.
There’s no question that Star Trek wouldn’t have been as relatable, as exciting, without Kirk, but without Spock — without their friendship that was so deep it defied death and single-handedly created fanfiction — could there have been such fervent hope for Gene Roddenberry’s vision of our future?
Nimoy once said of Spock that, “In a way, he was more human than anyone else on the ship,” and I’ve wondered whether Kirk’s eulogy in Wrath of Khan could have been inspired by Nimoy sharing this feeling with the writers, or whether they just recognized the complete truth of that statement instinctively.
I wrote Leonard Nimoy a letter back in 1993. I never sent it, mostly because it was embarrassingly honest, and I had a lot of shame at age 9. So it mouldered in disorganized piles of old school papers, drawings, and photos, until our basement flooded and my father swept the water-damaged detritus into boxes for me to sort through.
Now, the thing I keep thinking is I wish I had told Leonard Nimoy how much Vulcans meant to me.
Of course, how many people have surely told him that over the years? What would one extra message from one random woman have accomplished? And yet, I think that Leonard Nimoy was the sort of person who would have cared just as much the 10,000th time he heard that as the first. This is, after all, the man who announced that he would consider himself an honorary grandfather to anyone and everyone who just tweeted him and asked.
So, for what it’s worth, if somehow you know I’m saying this: Leonard Nimoy, thank you for Spock. Of every actor and character from every book, show, and movie that I have ever seen – you and Spock were the ones that showed me the type of human I want to be.
Dear Mr. Nimoy,
My name is Robyn and I live in Alaska. My mom and dad and I watch Star Trek, and we just saw Wrath of Khan. I was really sad and cried when you died, but then my dad told me you come back to life. I didn’t believe him so we watched Search for Spock that same night.
Sometimes I wish I was a Vulcan because you’re always so smart you can figure out the right answer for anybody, even Saavik since she’s not very old and doesn’t know as much yet. And whenever you feel upset you can stop feeling that way before anybody else knows. I wish I could do that, but I wouldn’t want to do the Kohlinar because never having emotions again seems sad. I think that’s why Spock didn’t do it either.
I know you wrote that book about how you don’t want everyone to think that you’re just Spock, and that’s okay, because you’re not just Spock. But I wanted to write to say that I don’t think you have to be Spock, because Spock is you.
Thank you for being in Star Trek.