I was an eighteen year old college freshman when Star Trek first came to television. It took no time for me to become an instant fan of the show in spite of the sometimes maudlin acting and rather amateurish production techniques. The stories were what mattered to me, along with the development of the characters, all of whom I adored. Later in the early years of motherhood, my husband would attend graduate classes at the university during the day and then work an evening shift at one of the downtown banks. I’d wait for him to come home, usually at around ten thirty just after the local nightly new program. Sometimes he came bearing hot dogs from the original downtown James Coney Island location and we would joyfully munch on those delightful sandwiches while watching reruns of Star Trek. To this very day I count those simple times as some of the best moments of my entire life. What could possibly be better than munching on the best hot dogs in America while viewing the adventures of Captain Kirk, Spock, Bones and the rest of the Enterprise crew?
Some pleasures never get old and watching the original Star Trek episodes is one of those things. Unfortunately, I have grown old along with the cast of that iconic program. Spock played by Leonard Nimoy is no longer with us. William Shatner who was once the dashing Captain Kirk is ninety years old. Nonetheless, he managed to bring that old familiar feeling of innocent joy to my face with his recent quick journey into space. In these intensely difficult times it seemed so right for “Captain Kirk” to be providing us all with a reason to smile once again.
Star Trek premiered in September of 1966. By 1968, the country would seem to be slowly devolving into a pit of violence and despair. War, protests, assassinations had become the stuff of the nightly news. When I married in October of 1968, the priest who spoke at my wedding marveled at how much faith it took to plan a future in the world of that moment. Fifty three years later, we are still here and ironically facing even more daunting challenges. In the midst of all the furor and uncertainty it was delightful to dream again of a future in which humankind overcomes the difficulties that hold us down on this earth. There was an older, less athletic, William Shatner bravely going forth into the unknown. Somehow his momentary visit to space reminded so many of us that we do indeed have the capability of overcoming the problems on this earth if only we use the many tools that we have as people.
The key to the success of the crew of the Enterprise was in their relationships. They complimented one another with their talents. Sometimes they disagreed on how things should be done, but always they respected their differences. That crew was way ahead of the rest of us in those days back in the sixties of the twentieth century. They relied on the expertise of a woman in a manner unheard of back then. Uhura was an officer of astounding abilities in linguistics and communication. She was the first Black female character to be portrayed in a leadership role for a national audience. The crew valued her in ways that few women experienced in the work world of 1966.
Sulu, an Asian, was the chief helmsman of the Enterprise. Spock was a man of mixed heritage, part human and part Vulcan. Such diversity was a radical concept when the series first aired and yet we all grew to love the characters and to understand the value of each person on board the ship. Mostly we saw how dependent and loyal the characters were with one another. While they sometimes had clashes of opinion, they ultimately understood when to be more rational like Spock or when to accept the sometimes emotional medical advice of Bones.
William Shatner’s recent adventure resurrected the hopefulness that was the ever present in those episodes of Star Trek. In his own words, he went “where no old man has gone before.” Shatner also noted that he hopes he never forgets the incredible feeling that overcame his emotions as his rocket barreled through the blue skies and beyond earth’s atmosphere into space. He wished that each of us might one day have the opportunity to experience such a remarkable journey.
It’s unlikely that I will ever venture into space, but perhaps one of my grandchildren or great grandchildren will one day travel beyond the planet into faraway realms. Maybe we will find answers to the many problems that we now face in the kind of innovation that has freed us from the bonds of gravity. With a bit of luck and determination we may one day learn to become more universally accepting of diversity, for it is in our prejudices that most of our problems lie. We also need to realize that being stuck in a certain way of thinking or believing or acting is deadly. To be truly alive we must be willing to really live and change and try new ideas. It’s never too late to learn something new. Even a ninety year old man can leave the pull of gravity and travel to new worlds. How wonderful is that!