Leonard Nimoy died five years ago today. Here’s the post I wrote on that occasion.
When The Wife and I were on our honeymoon, one of the stops was the Boston Museum of Science. I’m always a fan of science museums. During our visit, we saw a movie in their OmniMax theater. I don’t remember what the movie was, to be honest, but I do recall a bit at the beginning of the show, when the lights dimmed and a voice sounded over the speakers, which said something like this:
Good afternoon! The movie will begin shortly, but before it does, we need to properly calibrate our theater’s sound systems for use. To do this, we have enlisted the aid of a person who grew up in this very neighborhood. You may find his voice familiar.
This was followed by a beat of silence, and then another voice said:
Hello. Who put the BOMP in the BOMP shoo BOMP shoo BOMP; who put the RAM in the RAMALAMADINGDONG.
The second voice, the “local kid made good”, was Leonard Nimoy’s. I think most folks in the audience recognized that voice before he actually said “This is Leonard Nimoy”; his voice was, actually, one of the most familiar I ever knew. Gravelly and distinguished, that voice was, and Nimoy knew how to use it, which words to emphasize and where to pause just ever-so-slightly for effect.
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware of Leonard Nimoy on some level. More precisely, I should say that I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know who Mr. Spock was. I remember Star Trek episodes very early on, all the way back to the first house I ever lived in. Trek was my sister’s thing, but I remember vague images from it. The most specific one I have is at the end of an episode called “Friday’s Child”, when, at the end, all is well and the female guest star’s character has given birth, and observing Dr. McCoy making baby talk to the kid, Spock asks why baby talk is a thing at all.
A lot can be said about Nimoy and Spock, and a lot has been said about Nimoy and Spock over the years. Most fascinating to me was Spock’s arc through the six “Original Crew” movies, from his attempt in The Motion Picture to purge himself of emotion to his own resolution of the “Kobayashi Maru” test to his rescue to his work to put his own brain back together (interesting that no fewer than three major Trek stories, one episode and two movies, devoted large amounts of time to putting Spock’s brain and mind back together), and finally to the confident, competent officer we saw in The Undiscovered Country. In that film, when Kirk and McCoy get in serious trouble and are arrested, Spock just calmly assumes command and immediately begins the investigation to find the evidence to free them. Through that film, Spock acts with a calm acceptance that the truth will come out, that they will find the evidence, and that they will find it by searching for it calmly and logically. It is of a piece with his line in the film about the need for faith, to trust that “the Universe will unfold as it should”.
My personal favorite Spock moment comes at the end of what is certainly one of the very best Trek episodes ever, “The City on the Edge of Forever”. Knowing that if he allows Edith Keeler to live, the future will change and Starfleet and the Federation will never happen, Kirk stops McCoy from pulling her out of the path of the oncoming car. McCoy rages at Kirk:
“You deliberately stopped me. Jim! I could have saved her! Do you know what you just did?!”
And Spock — ever calm, ever logical, ever accepting of what must be — simply says:
“He knows, Doctor. He knows.”
Nimoy knows that he can’t express sadness in that line. He cannot express heartbreak or the awfulness of the choice that Kirk has just had to make, and all the same, Nimoy conveys that Spock knows these things. He knows these things, he knows that they are real, and he does not belittle them in any way.
Since I’ve no memories at all of a time before Star Trek, it’s fair to say that it — along with Star Wars, obviously — are the biggest influences of mine in terms of my notion of what the world will look like, hundreds or thousands of years in the future. Will we always face problems and struggles and very real difficulties? Absolutely. But I don’t believe in dystopia. I cannot, will not believe that there is a future in the offing when the world is wrecked and everything is in ashes and only a very few are living well while the rest of humanity exists in dimly-lit squalor. I cannot, will not believe that, and that’s why I cannot, will not write it.
I believe that whatever difficulties and challenges we eventually face, we will do it from a brightly-lit viewpoint where it’s always clear how far we’ve already come. I believe that when we take to the stars, our ships will be beautiful and that they will explore with grace, and that we will confront our futures with logic and science as well as warmth and a twinkle in the eye that’s always there.
Why do I believe those things? In large part, because of a teevee show and some movies that Leonard Nimoy starred in.
After his long and prosperous life, Leonard Nimoy now belongs to the past. But he’ll always be a part of my future…my “Undiscovered Country”.