Live Long and Prosper: Why We Say Goodbye to Heroes in Story

Leonard_Nimoy_1967Today a longtime childhood hero of mine died – Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock on Star Trek for over 40 years.

When I learned of Nimoy’s death, I started thinking about why heroes in stories are so important to us, and why those who play these heroes so deeply impact our lives.

Nimoy tried to distance himself from his role as Spock for awhile, but it didn’t work. His character was so unique and beloved that fans couldn’t see him as anyone other than Mr. Spock, the science officer of the Enterprise, the half-human, half-Vulcan who struggled to understand who he was and became Captain Kirk’s best friend.

His character encompassed so many aspects of the human struggle that I think most fans identified with Spock as much, or maybe even more, than Captain Kirk. Spock was uneasy with his family background. He didn’t know if he was human or Vulcan. He ended up trying to choose one, but Vulcans wouldn’t completely accept him, so he turned back to his human side and joined the Academy, knowing he would be the only half-human, half-Vulcan in Star Fleet, and probably expecting to remain an outsider his entire life.

Leonard_Nimoy_William_Shatner_Star_Trek_1968Then Spock was assigned to the Enterprise and Captain James T. Kirk, a man who couldn’t be more different from Spock. Kirk was volatile, passionate, impetuous – the opposite of cool-headed, logical, stoic Spock. The opportunity for tension was high, but Spock and Kirk developed a deep friendship and the very characteristics which looked likely to provide conflict instead complemented each other. The pair were able to use their different personalities and abilities to extricate the crew of the Enterprise from many sticky situations.

I think we all long for relationships like that: friends that come alongside you and challenge you with their own skill sets and passions, whether it’s logic or exploration, leading a starship or simply helping you understand who you are as part of the human race. Friends that see your flaws and are willing to look past them and help you overcome them, even while you’re in the battle of your lives against Klingons, or cancer, or family turmoil.

Through watching Star Trek and growing to love the heroes, Spock and Captain Kirk and yes, the rest of the crew, too, I learned what it means to push the boundaries of what you believe is possible. I learned that it’s okay to be afraid when faced with unknown danger but that your friends are there to help save you, so you never give up on them. I saw that you could accomplish more by being a team, a crew, than you ever could on your own. And I learned it’s important to laugh some, too.

But isn’t Star Trek just a Hollywood story and not real life? Sure. But the concepts of dealing with the unknown, of acting bravely, of loving those around you and staying loyal to your friends, even at personal cost to yourself, those are challenges we all face. And when we have heroes like Spock and Captain Kirk who have shown us how to face those challenges in story, it makes us believe we can overcome them, too.

Leonard Nimoy’s famous farewell on Star Trek was, “Live Long and Prosper.” On Star Trek, he showed us how to do just that. So today I say goodbye to a hero, thankful that Leonard Nimoy brought such a powerful character to life for so many years.

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Star Trek photos in the public domain.

Leonard Nimoy (5773917995)” by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America – Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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