Monday, March 02, 2015

Live Long and Prosper

Live Long and Prosper. What does that even mean?

Living long is not living forever, and prosperity -- however it is defined -- is reserved for the living.

As a benediction, it seems entirely illogical. Yet there it is, the single most recognizable line from the most iconic character in television history.

I have considered that line a bit since Leonard Nimoy passed away before the weekend.

I also considered, as I often do, my own attachment to that show and that character. As a child, I was small, shy, emotional, and a math nerd. Sometimes I was on the wrong end of a playground bully, and sometimes I watched my tears fall. I felt myself to be an "other."

At age 9, I made a vow to myself to show no emotion -- at least not in school -- no matter what. I would contemplate everything, and stay calm no matter what. For two years, maybe more, my school life included not so much as a single smile.

During this period, I discovered Star Trek. It was in syndication by then, broadcast at dinner hour every evening on Channel 11. And there... was Spock. A TV character embodying the otherness I felt, literally a lone alien. Spock had complete discipline in behaving logically, showing no emotion (except, of course, when it served a plot point or three), and even being a walking half-human calculator.

But Spock really wasn't an "other." He was the science officer, the 2nd in command, the reasoned foil for Kirk's bravado and McCoy's appeals to sentiment. And he got to wear a blue shirt! Kirk was the Captain, but Spock was my guy.

Spock was the most human character on that show, or any other. Spock could live and prosper in that fantasy world. That was an inspiration to me, and to millions of others. I watched every night, often with a TV dinner in front of the screen. Within just a few seconds of dialogue I could recognize any episode, even from the dreadful 3rd season. I watched anyway.

Leonard Nimoy infused the character of Spock. The Vulcan salute and the benediction were, I believe, his inputs (both originating in the same 2nd season episode, Amok Time). Spock was the one major character who died during the original cast Star Trek movies, a temporary horror more than repaid when Nimoy subsequently directed the two best movies in the series. And even then, as Spock completes his full return to form, we see the question: "How do you feel?"

In the final original cast movie, Spock uttered the line, "I've been dead before." In the movies, characters could come back. Spock could even be rebooted, with neither parents nor a planet nor much of any real trace of the resonating otherness that mattered most to me.

I don't know what "Live Long and Prosper" means. First spoken in the immediate aftermath of having killed his Captain (or so he thought), it is illogical. And fascinating. Somehow, it makes sense to me tonight. The answer to the question was, "I feel fine."