Leonard Nimoy, who died today of chronic pulmonary disease at the age of 83, was almost like a family member to me. For as long as I can remember, his grave visage, sometimes with his pointy ears and sometimes without, festooned my father’s study in posters and figurines and Pez dispensers (the above photo is the Spock I knitted for him one Hanukkah, after my own design. It made him happier than anything else I have ever given him.)
Star Trek in general, and Mr. Spock in particular, loomed large in the mythology of our family. My sister and I grew up hearing stories about my father’s restless period of unemployment in Austin in the early 1970s, when daytime reruns of the original Rodenberry series provided a comforting bulwark in an uncertain, and to hear him tell it, overwhelmingly depressive time. Its strange mix of high camp and deeply felt idealism appealed to him, and to my mother, who would often watch with him when she came home for lunch from her graduate classes or bookkeeping job, and Mr. Spock was by far the character they loved best. My father, whose remote, intellectual manner similarly hides a deep well of empathetic warmth, identified with the Vulcan half-breed, whose lack of emotional expression didn’t mean he didn’t have them, and my mother loved Spock because she loved my dad.
When I heard of his death a little earlier today, there was naturally only one person I wanted to call, one person I felt should have the news broken to him as gently as possible. So I cued it up: “Daddy, I have terrible, terrible news.” My father, who in a marked break with cool Vulcan logic, is generally waiting for the phone call that will tell him that one of us has been fired or diagnosed with inoperable cancer or lost all of our earthly possessions in a house fire that has also claimed several lives, gasped with anxiety. I gave him the sad news. He sighed with relief, then genuine grief. (This is how we break news gently in my family.)
I knew as soon as he began to work out his feelings I’d get some golden insight about why this particular television icon, writer, photographer, and all-around mensch had meant so much to him, and I wasn’t disappointed. “I guess it was because he was someone whose acting was informed by his values,” my dad said. “His spirituality. His decency. His intelligence. The way he brought that gesture of the priestly benediction into the mainstream, not as a joke or a wink, but as something meaningful and almost otherworldly, is just an amazing thing.”
And speaking of meaning, Nimoy’s final tweet, posted last week, gives a clue to the poetical nature of his thoughts in his final days: “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP.”
He could have lived longer, but we all prospered from his life. And his memory will be a blessing, on this planet and beyond.