"Change is the essential process of all existence," Spock once said. Death is change, and that Mr. Nimoy, by the evidence of my own eyes an artist in many fields, and by all accounts a human being of inspiring empathy and passion, should die is inevitable. Yesterday, he did. On Facebook I put pictures, but no words. Changed the banner on my page. Changed my profile picture. Put up one of the saddest pictures I've ever seen. But no words.
I've known he was seriously ill for some time. I read when he disclosed his COPD. I've followed him on Twitter. Saw his announcements slowly, inexorably scaling back. Read the posts that spoke of time, and beauty, and impermanence. And, the logical part of my brain said "He is in his 80's. It is coming."
So I was not surprised. Still, when I saw the announcements, 20 minutes before I was to walk into film class and face 60 students, many of whom probably hated the film I showed on Wednesday (White Heat, Warner Bros., 1949), it took some effort to not walk in red-eyed and unable to function. A man I never met died, and it rocked me to the core.
I remember with crystaline clarity when I "met" Leonard Nimoy, in the alter ego of Mr. Spock, First Officer of the United Federation Starship Enterprise, NCC-1701. When the TV Guide for Premier Week came out, as usual, Daddy, Momma, and I (9 years old, and able to stay up until 10 o'clock now that I was in 4th grade!) went through it and marked the shows we wanted to watch, especially the "new" shows that we were going to "try out." For Thursday, Momma and I had marked Tarzan at 7:30, which meant Daddy lost out on F Troop at 8:00. But, we were pretty much in agreement to try out the show on NBC at 8:30--something called Star Trek. We had watched CBS's Lost in Space the night before (now in its second season). It was okay, but while I liked it fine, Mom and Dad weren't too impressed. Still, it was better than the other offerings.
So once Ron Ely finished swinging through the trees (still my favority Tarzan, by the way), we settled in for the new show. My little brother was asleep by then, and we just sat around our little round table, and watched the show.
When it was over, Daddy took the TV Guide and said "I guess we know what we're watching Thursday nights." Momma and I enthusiastically agreed. We were all three fans until the end of the third year, even though we knew that much of the third season was horrible. I remember the day I came home from school and my mother told me with great excitement that William Shatner had appeared on Jeopardy! that afternoon to thank everyone who wrote in to protest NBC's announcement that the show was going to be cancelled, and to announce the network had retracted that decision. It was the first thing she said to Daddy when he came home, and he said, "I know, it was on the radio in the car." He had a pleased smile on his face. If my parents' had had the money, I if I knew they existed, I know they would have given me any Star Trek toy I asked for. They did get me the model kit for the NCC-1701, but I got too discouraged by my imperfect efforts. It is still partially constructed in a box somewhere. But I digress.
My childhood, like most childhoods, was not easy. When I relate my experiences to some people, they always seem to say things like, "My childhood was rough, but nothing like yours." Maybe so. I have no scale of reference. But I do know that Spock saved me.
I think I realized, even before "Amok Time," that it was not, as McCoy often claimed, that Spock was emotionless. It was that Spock was determined not to let his pain, his passion, his frustration, his fear control him--he would be in control. He would think his way through, around whatever challenges were presented to him. His body, his emotions, would not control him--his mind would. And so, I became Spock. A pre-adolescent female human took as her role model and mentor a half-human Vulcan male. As did hundreds of thousands of others.
And I did it so completely, so perfectly, that it terrified my mother. I remember the day she exploded in frustation, "Stop being Spock. You can't keep all of that inside--it will destroy you!"
But while my Momma was wise, and right, about many things, about that one thing, she was wrong.
Yesterday, Leonard Nimoy died. He brought into perfect instantiation the creation of Gene Roddenberry--the conscience of the Enterprise, and, to many extents, the Federation of Planets: the brilliant, loyal, compassionate, logical son of Sarek and Amanda. That character SAVED MY LIFE AND SANITY by giving me hope, and a path, that enabled me to live through childhood sexual abuse at the hand of a trusted man; an alcoholic father; a chronically, ultimately terminally ill brother; a mother who existed on the verge of death due to too many illnesses to list here; and crippling poverty.
I owe Gene Roddenberry, and Leonard Nimoy, more than I can ever express or repay.