Leonard Nimoy Taught Me How to Be a Person

Thank you, Leonard Nimoy, as you go where so many have gone before, as you go to prepare the way for us.
Publish date:
February 27, 2015
death, growing up, Star Trek, mourning, Leonard Nimoy, spock

There was nothing I wanted quite so desperately as a child as to be grown-up, despite the fact that grown-ups were opaque and dull. They carried the immense power and privilege of adulthood and seemed not to even realize it, let alone appreciate it, let alone glory in it. Why were they so consumed with trivialities? Why were they not thinking big thoughts and doing big things? Maturity is wasted on the mature, my childhood self believed.

And then, Star Trek, serendipitously encountered in reruns, in the pre-cable television landscape of my youth. Now these were grown-ups. Arguing moral dilemmas, accomplishing difficult tasks. Strong and beautiful and disciplined.

And Spock was the most grown-up of them all. He was always right. He was always calm. When he applied the Vulcan neck pinch he didn't drop his unconscious victims like a thug, he caught them and lowered them gently down, even if they had hurt him. "Love your enemy," I heard people say, but they never said what that might look like. Like Spock's combat style, nine-year-old me decided.

I had a lot of enemies to learn to love. I was unfeminine but also not a tomboy, intellectual but also not academically gifted, a psychological half-breed. My parents moved around a lot, which can make or break your social skills, and it did the latter for me. I was friendless at best, bullied at worst. An ugly Spockling in a world of sneering McCoys.

I wanted to be emotionless like a Vulcan. Spock didn't cry in his sonic shower over the mean thing McCoy said to him at lunch, I was sure of it. I wouldn't cry either. Logic, sarcasm, a resonant voice, and bangs trimmed with a plumb line: My tween self was a star-caliber Radio City Music Hall Spockette.

And then one day it hit me: Spock is half human. He does have emotions. He's just repressing them.

Wait, I thought. How can it be logical to pretend something doesn't exist when it does? Even if that thing is something as illogical and unnecessary and generally awful as emotion?

And I, unfortunately, was 100 percent human, which meant that trying to pretend I didn't have emotions was twice as illogical for me as it was for Spock.

The effect on my psyche was not unlike the many episodes in which Kirk argues a computer into a nervous breakdown. Emotion is not logical! But denying reality is also not logical! Does . . . not . . . compute . . . .

I began to change. As I grew up and the complexity of the world came into focus, I realized how much lay between the poles of pure logic and utter chaos. I stopped saying "logical" and started saying "makes sense." I read Leonard Nimoy's memoirs, I Am Not Spock and I Am Spock, and started to think big grown-up thoughts about performance and identity. It turned out that I was more of a McCoy after all: tuned in always to the human dimension of any problem.

To deny reality is illogical. To deny the tears falling on my face as I write this is illogical.

Leonard Nimoy, thank you.

Thank you for bringing so much passion and compassion to Spock. It's not in the script. You did that. And because you did I was able to learn the things I needed to learn from Spock.

Thank you for writing a book and then realizing you made a big mistake and writing another book to correct it. In my angry, cold, defensive youth I found it impossible to admit when I was had made a mistake. But if you could, I could.

Thank you for being weird. I'm still not sure what those photographs of naked women in phylacteries and prayer shawls were all about, but I liked them. I liked that you were willing to piss off (orthodox) rabbis and (orthodox) feminists and people who didn't want you to ever do anything but sign autographs at conferences.

Thank you for creating a whole new genre of sex appeal. We needed it.

Thank you for teaching me so, so much about what it means to be a grown-up. And a scientist. And a writer. And a friend. And an actor. And a Jew.

Thank you, Leonard Nimoy, as you go where so many have gone before, as you go to prepare the way for us.

You lived long. You prospered.

You were the best grown-up of them all.