“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ~ Viktor Frankl
I don’t really have the time to write a blog post today, but I feel a need to try to understand the formative role of Star Trek and Leonard Nimoy’s character of Spock in my childhood, so I am giving myself an hour to finish this and hoping I can come close to something not illogical.
Where I Had Not Gone Before
Star Trek entered my life when I was twelve. A new teacher came to our two-room rural South Dakota country (and only the second teacher I’d ever had), bringing with her books for our tiny back-room library. Some of those books were James Blish’s adaptations of the original Star Trek episodes and Alan Dean Foster’s adaptations of Star Trek: The Animated Series (I realize now that those books were fairly new at the time). I had never heard of Star Trek, but I was quickly hooked and then ecstatic to learn that syndicated episodes would be shown every day—every day!—after school.
Star Trek was perhaps my first bona fide obsession. I simply could not get enough. I watched. I read. I wrote fan fiction. I pondered episodes and made up new ones. No one else in my family or the school shared my obsession, but I didn’t care. I loved the idealism. I loved the science. I loved the characters. And, through it all, I was most obsessed with Spock.
Stranger in a Strange Land
What twelve year old doesn’t feel a bit like a stranger in a strange land? An alien trying to figure out her place in a world where everyone else seems to glide effortlessly and knowingly from day to day? My emotions at that time would get the better of me to the point where I felt helpless in their wake, and, finally, here was a character who experienced the same struggles and tensions, who felt as though he fit in nowhere, straddling worlds he didn’t understand.
I did not know it at the time, maybe not even until today, but Leonard Nimoy’s Spock was my first introduction to philosophy, to the age-old questions of mind versus body, reason versus emotion, pain versus pleasure, what it means to be human (or, in his case, half-human). Most important, I internalized through his character the precepts of Stoicism, and there were many difficult days in my adolescence when I would pretend to be not quite a Vulcan, for they do not need to wrestle with understanding their emotions, but a half-Vulcan.
As Lary Wallace writes in Aeon, Stoicism is much misunderstood. He reminds us that the tranquility of the Stoics is due not to apathy but to gratitude, “a gratitude, moreover, rugged enough to endure anything.” Stoicism is also about freedom of mind, freedom of choice, and the inherent value of suffering. While Spock perhaps went too far in his attempts to control his own emotions and often suffered needlessly, I learned from him that the emotional currents of life need not control our every waking moment and that the struggle for self-understanding can be noble, even and maybe especially when no one else sees or notices. In those ideas, I found great freedom and strength, while pretending to be a fictional character.
No wonder as an adult I am drawn to existentialism. Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, “It can be seen that mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become. Such a tension is inherent in the human being and therefore is indispensable to mental well-being.”
And, with that, my hour is up. Thank you, Leonard Nimoy (and Gene Roddenberry). You will live long in our hearts, and your legacy will prosper.
Note: After I wrote this post, my daughter-in-law, also a Star Trek fan, sent me the link to “Goodbye, Mr. Nimoy — What Spock Meant to One Geeky 12-Year-Old Girl,” by Emily Asher-Perin, which tells her own story better than I.
Bruno Mars, “The Lazy Song” (video featuring Leonard Nimoy, directed by Nez)
Header photo by NBC Television (ebay item front release) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons