Sunday Bonus Post: Goodbye, Mr. Spock.
Leonard Nimoy, who played Mr. Spock on Star Trek, appeared as the character in films, and was the subject of countless written words, passed away on Friday. The world is poorer for it. This is primarily a post about friendship…because in many ways, Kirk and Spock taught me about being a good friend.
I could recount the numerous ways in which Nimoy parlayed the notoriety of being Spock into bigger and better things. He certainly did, taking advantage of being a pop culture icon, and using that to leverage intellectual ideas, and a personal philosophy that was based on generally being a good person. I could speak at length about what a big deal it was to me that he was Jewish, too…especially when I realized that most of the world wasn’t.
I’m not going to talk about those things. I’m going to talk about how he, through his portrayal of Mr. Spock, more or less taught me to be a decent, loyal friend. I’m not going to talk about it for long, either. Short, sweet, and to the point.
Despite Spock being emotionless…he cares deeply for his best friends, Bones and Kirk. Through the seventy nine episodes of the show, he risks himself regularly and constantly for them. He is patient and kind when they need support, and rises to the good natured ribbing that they engage in. Despite being from a completely alien culture, he is himself, and they accept him as is…and he accepts his friends, as they are. When the chips are down, he always comes through.
Spock was about loyalty, quietly standing up for what you believe in, and who you care for. He was about caring for people through real actions, and not having to put on a big phony emotional display. Spock’s friendship was about quality, and being real.
In “Wrath of Khan,” he gives his life to save the whole ship. Just walks into a dangerously radioactive chamber, and endures crazy burns and pain to fix the warp drive, so that his friends can make it to safety. He dies slowly of his wounds, saying goodby to his best friend, unable to touch him through the safety glass. Spock points out that “the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the one,” and makes a joke to Kirk about the solution he came up to for the no-win scenario.
Then he says that he “has been, and always shall be,” Kirk’s friend.
It’s heartbreaking, but vitally poignant. It’s about living with no regrets, and caring for someone more than for yourself.
The next film is equally important in its thesis on friendship. Spock’s Dad shows up, to explain to Kirk that they need to get Spock’s body, and perform some kind of Vulcan ritual. Kirk doesn’t understand it, and neither do Chekov, Bones, or Scotty. They just know that it’s important, and would have been important to their friend.
So, with just that, they chuck their careers in the chipper shredder, steal the busted up Enterprise, sabotage another spaceship, and run off to a quarantined planet to do the job. They do it because it would have been important to their friend, who is gone, and they hurt because of it. along the way, they blow up the Enterprise, a thing that they love, again…because they have a job to do for their friend.
When a sci-fi technicality allows Spock to be brought back, at the end of the film, he asks why they would do this. Why chuck away your ship, your jobs, your lives? Kirk tells him the foundation of the friendship to him…”The needs of the one outweighed the needs of the many.”
Spock is confused by this, but warmly received by the friends who have helped him.
A number of people have compared Star Trek, in plot terms, to the Odyssey of Homer. In a more clear sense, it’s similarity is as an instruction manual of how to be, and how to behave. Spock, as portrayed by Nimoy, shows us a life of contemplative wisdom, an examined philosopher’s life of adventure and friendship.
I got the news that he had passed on while I was at school. All day long I had to sort through young people’s issues of violence, anger, and crime…while trying to teach logical problem solving, and then relay the fifth chapter of the “Queen of Air and Darkness,” book two of “The Once and Future King.” As the day went on, and I saw students voluntarily squabbling, being violent, and rejecting the very classes that were being offered, I grew discouraged.
No…I got angry.
It seemed like a waste of time. It seemed like as many gang tags that could be erased from the walls, new ones would simply grow up in their place. It was another day peppered by violent acts and words that confidentiality suggests that I not detail. Still…it was present, and in large quantity, as has been the case this year. Teaching at a school on disputed turf between different gangs, I was having a hard time understanding how a peaceful, thoughtful man was gone, and those that “live by the sword” seem to continue to thrive.
As I started to draw the lead art, that relaxed. I remembered, quite clearly, that Spock, and most probably Nimoy, would suggest that it simply remained to show that group the way. Their logic was flawed, the thought process faulty. If one could address the situation in the area with reason, with discipline of mind, everything could be sorted through. It was seeing his features forming on the page, in Vulcan robes, that brought that point home.
Spock himself attempted to bring peaceful coexistence to the warlike Romulans, through talking to them, and generally pointing out that their warlike ways were flawed, and would lead them to a bad end. That they should follow the simple tenets outlined below…
“Live Long and Prosper.” Simple words, and a decent guideline for good things. That idea, the idea that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” and that peaceful solutions are logically the best ones, are hallmarks of the character of Spock, and of Nimoy’s portrayal of him.
Spock failed to make the Romulans less warlike, much like I’ve been failing to bring peace to my tiny corner of South Central…despite the good quality of content in our ideas.
I’m glad that I’m at least in good company.
As I’ve said before, Spock (and as a result, Nimoy) taught me how to be a good friend, and a good mentor. He was an example of how to live with quality, and that the philosopher, the teacher, is also an adventurer.
I owe him for the countless hours of simple GOOD he has brought to my life.