I remember the exact moment I realized that I could be Mr. Spock.
I was 9 years old, trapped in the “Husky” jeans section of the local Macy’s department store. Looking around at the selection of very big pants, I understood viscerally what I had known intellectually for years.
“Husky” meant “fat.” It meant that I was fat.
Not super fat, but fat enough to be in the Husky section.
I was awkward, developing in that tortured way that evolution see’s fit to make us endure. Staring at the mirror while my Mom gathered trousers for me try on, I was pissed off that because of this shopping trip, I was missing the rerun of "Star Trek" that aired on weekday afternoons.
“What would Spock think about the ‘Husky’ designation?” That’s what I was pondering. I was wondering how the master of logic would justify and make sense of the clearly derogatory way I was feeling about myself.
“Fascinating,” I imagined him saying, and he would raise that patented eyebrow.
Then I looked in the mirror, furrowed my brow, took note of the barely present peach fuzz growing under my nose, and with all the power of a Vulcan mind meld, I imagined that my right eyebrow was being pulled by a thread towards the stars. That one eyebrow was to boldly go where no eyebrow of mine had ever gone before.
And I did it. I raised that eyebrow.
“Fascinating,” I muttered. And then I did it again, and again. It was like a teeny Bar Mitzvah moment. “Today, I am a Vulcan.”
Spock meant that much to me. Spock could be friends with a tough guy like Kirk. Spock was unfazed by McCoy’s insults. Spock tolerated with admirable self-control the romantic advances of Nurse Chapel. Spock would, I was certain, be emotionally impervious to the Husky section of Macy’s.
“Fascinating,” I said, and again I raised my right eye brow.
I share the world’s sadness for Leonard Nimoy’s passing. I am grateful that he stuck around so long after he began his “five year mission.” I feel like a kid every time I hear his voice in the Imax theater at Boston's Museum of Science. Every time I hear his voice, I am wearing Husky jeans but feeling OK about it.
These days I’m still raising one eyebrow on an almost daily basis. I even had a patient’s parent give me Vulcan ears for Christmas a few years ago.
“They’re not because you’re emotionally cold,” she explained.
No, I thought, Spock wasn’t cold.
“They’re because you’re not freaked out by our child. They’re because you’re interested.”
There could be no higher compliment.
Spock’s final frontier wasn’t just a place you could go at Warp 7. Mr. Nimoy’s portrayal of Spock showed us all that "Star Trek’s" Prime Directive, the principle that you should never irrevocably interfere with an established culture, applied as much to ourselves as to the planets that the Enterprise visited. He might as well have been quoting Polonius.
To your own Vulcan self, be true.
When "Star Trek" first aired, being biracial was just barely something anyone talked about. Spock was the ultimate half-breed. Half human, half Vulcan, Spock was forced by his own people to reject assimilation and instead to choose whether he would be human or Vulcan. He couldn’t be both. Tell me Spock’s struggles didn’t resonate with every kid in the '70s who played football and "Dungeons and Dragons." Tell me Spock’s struggles don’t resonate today as we continue to define ourselves.
Like all good fictional characters, Spock’s challenges pose profound and fundamental questions for humanity.What is normal? Do we have to choose how to behave or can we just be who we are? And who ARE we in the first place?
Spock was all about identity and balance.
Spock would not have road rage.
Spock would keep his cool when his flight was delayed.
Another 10 inches of snow?
He’d raise that eyebrow and ponder the climate.
“Fascinating,” he’d say, and then he’d grab a shovel and clear himself a path.
Steven Schlozman, M.D. is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a staff child psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is also associate director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds. Tweet Dr. Schlozman at @zombieautopsies.