I grieve with thee
The New York Times has reported that Leonard Nimoy has died at the age of 83.
I was afraid of this when I heard the news about his hospitalization the other day, but I’d hoped it was a false alarm. Still, it’s not surprising, given his health in recent years. But it is entirely logical to be saddened, and to shed tears for a man who left such a profound mark on the world.
Spock was one of my first childhood role models, and certainly the most influential, for better or worse. When I was seven — about two years after discovering Star Trek — I lost my mother, and in response to that grief, I tried to become like Spock and suppress my emotions. It backfired; without a healthy release valve, my emotions erupted vehemently and often, and I felt more like Dr. Banner from The Incredible Hulk than like Mr. Spock. But in 1979, when Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out and Spock had the epiphany that emotion was valuable and necessary as an integrated part of the psyche, I came to much the same realization — perhaps as a result of Spock’s — and learned to be more at peace with my own emotions.
I also tried to emulate Spock’s intelligence, the way he contributed and was appreciated for being a source of knowledge. (The Professor on Gilligan’s Island also influenced me in this way.) But real life didn’t turn out like fiction; rather than being appreciated for my efforts to inform and contribute, I was seen as a showoff or a know-it-all. Some people appreciated my contributions in the helpful spirit in which I intended them, but to this day, there are others who mistake it for condescension.
So one could argue that modeling myself on Spock hasn’t always worked out so great for me. But that doesn’t matter — his influence is simply part of who I am, and part of his example was learning to accept who you are even when you don’t fit in or are misunderstood. His example of logical, educated thought and scientific curiosity has guided me throughout my life, enriching my understanding of the world and helping me keep learning, questioning, and thinking. The principles of peace and diversity he embodied have shaped my values and helped me feel more empathy and connection to others.
This is the legacy that Leonard Nimoy has left us. He took a character that another actor might have treated as a joke or a caricature and brought immense sincerity, thoughtfulness, and sensitivity to his performance, giving Star Trek a weight and meaning it might not have had without him. He always treated his role and his audience with respect, and we were drawn to him in turn, and this was key to making Star Trek such an enduring phenomenon, a universe that felt real and solid and inspired us to believe in a better, smarter future even when the show was at its silliest. And as Star Trek matured and Spock aged, Nimoy made him evolve. After his (and my) epiphany in TMP, he let Spock grow more balanced, more self-assured, more at peace with his logic and his emotion, showing us that there was no real conflict between the two. He showed us that synthesis between opposing views is a better, more rewarding response than opposition — a lesson that we are in desperate need of today. And when Star Trek was reinvented with a new cast, continuity, and attitude, he stayed true to that principle, coming out of retirement to give the new incarnation his blessing, befriend his successor and protege in the role of Spock, and show once again that it’s better to unite than divide.
And to think there was a time when Nimoy almost gave up playing Spock. Hard to imagine now, when he’s been such an integral thread tying the whole franchise together. He was there from the very beginning, he was there for the animated series and the films, he crossed over to The Next Generation, and he carried his character through to the new incarnation and into a new universe. The story of Spock is the story of Star Trek. And for all that his character prized logic over passion, Nimoy has always been its heart.
I’m sad that Nimoy didn’t make it to see the 50th anniversary next year. But I suppose he’s already had his own 50th, since the anniversary of “The Cage” was last year. Still, it won’t be the same without him.
I’m glad, though, that next month will see the release of my new book Rise of the Federation: Uncertain Logic, a novel that focuses heavily on Vulcan civilization and Spock’s grandparents. Spock himself is decades away from being born in the timeframe of the novel, but no one can write about Vulcans without being heavily influenced by Nimoy’s work. I feel it will be a fitting tribute.
I’m crying now. It’s the only logical thing to do.