by Gene Howington
It is strange how we as humans can effect one another across time and space through the medium of art. Truly spooky action at a distance. If you are of a certain age and a certain bent of mind, you grew up surrounded by (hopefully) your family and the extended family that is the cast of the original Star Trek series. However, everything that has a beginning has an end. Today, February 27, 2015, the path of Leonard Nimoy came to an end. He was a talented actor, writer, poet, director and photographer. Nimoy also turned in memorable performances as Dr. David Kibner in the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the recurring part of William Bell on the series Fringe. He was 83 when he died from complications of end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
As a child, I learned a lot from Nimoy’s portrayal of Spock. The power of logic, the calm of reason, the value of compassion, friendship and comradery. Although those last three lessons took a bit longer to sink in than the first two, the list is far from complete. Spock was, and always shall be, an excellent role model.
I recall the first time I saw Star Trek in re-runs on television. Kirk, the dashing emotional hero. Dr. McCoy, the heart of the crew. Scottie, the often ironically funny problem solver. All of the characters had their own appeal and function for story telling. But to me it was always Spock who stood out. Calm, rational, dispassionate, cool, logical Spock who rarely let emotions get in the way of his analysis and came up with or at least contributed to solutions for many of the vexing problems facing the Enterprise crew. He was the crews conscience. Even when the half-human side of Spock brought his emotions to the front, the character taught something important about human nature like the nature alienation. In the episode “This Side of Paradise”, Spock’s emotions are set free by aphrodisiacal spores he discovers on the planet Omicron Ceti III. He abandons his mission and pronounces his love for a woman he had once known on Earth, Leila Kalomi (played by Jill Ireland). It showed Spock in a way that was in sharp contrast to everything I had found attractive about the character to date. He was joyful and carefree. But in the end, when the effect of the spores wears off, he returns to being his former colder more aloof self. And the remarkable part to me was this: he did so without regret but acknowledging that part of joy is the absence of joy. He did not lament or sour from “losing his passionate love for her”. As Spock told Leila after returning to his controlled Vulcan self, “I am what I am, Leila. And if there are self-made purgatories, then we all have to live in them. Mine can be no worse than someone else’s.” It was the first time I recall thinking “We can be many things, different things to different people at different times in our short lives. Even to ourselves.” This character of Nimoy’s in many ways shaped what would go on to become parts of my personal operation philosophies, from my predilection for the works of Marcus Aurelius and Buddha to the works of Douglas Hofstadter and Bruce Lee.
During the days leading up to his death, Mr. Nimoy took to social media to share some of his final thoughts. Two really stood out to me. One is the closing phrase from a poem “You and I have Learned” from his book These Words Are for You.
The miracle is this,
The more we share . . .
The second was a thought posted to Twitter so simple and elegant that it could have been said by the Edo period poet Bashō:
“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.”
It has been my great privilege and honor to have shared some of the same time on Earth and be influenced by the art of Leonard Nimoy. But I will not shed a tear for him. Why? In the words of Theodor Geisel (another influential fictional doctor in my life, Dr. Seuss):
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
Live long and prosper.