This is a lovely essay by my friend Dr. Hilda Kleiman of Mount Angel Seminary, an essay about Star Trek and, ultimately, about why Hilda decided to leave Queen of Angels Monastery in Mount Angel.
My little town is fortunate to still have a single-screen, independently-owned movie theater, so last week I went to see the new Star Trek movie, Star Trek Beyond. While the basic plot of the crew of the Enterprise saving billions of souls from a misguided bad guy was not original, in terms of the relationships among the crew the movie was quintessentially Star Trek. It was about the larger Star Trek family, the actors and their fans, as well as about the formation of a family and about deciding to be a family.
In Star Trek Beyond, Kirk is struggling with the meaning of his, at this point, young life and career, his reasons for being in space, and the question of which relationships will be his primary bonds. He smiles sadly when he sees Sulu greet his young family when the Enterprise docks at the space station, and he asks Spock whether Spock thinks the two of them make a good team. He is struggling to be a man other than his father, to find his own way, and to determine if that way does or does not include the Enterprise.
Spock is in the midst of his own struggles as well. Toward the beginning of the movie, he learns that Ambassador Spock has died and receives a box that contains some of the Ambassador’s possessions. He is struggling with whether he should remain in Starfleet, as well as whether he should honor his relationship with Uhura, or if he should go to New Vulcan to help rebuild part of his native culture and society and make the Vulcans his family. However, toward the end of the film, he finds a photo among Ambassador Spock’s possessions, a photo of the original Enterprise crew that any hardcore Star Trek fan would recognize as one of the most popular publicity stills from Star Trek The Undiscovered Country. Holding the photo, Spock understands that he will find the family he seeks in the crew of the Enterprise, a family of which he is already a part. They belong to him, and they are part of his destiny.
This sense of family and belonging is also found in an early scene between Kirk and McCoy. They meet alone in a bar aboard the Enterprise to mark Kirk’s birthday, which is the same day his father died as well. McCoy arrives with a bottle of scotch that he says he found in Chehov’s locker. I heard a small gasp from the others around me in the theater when McCoy said this because, I am sure, we were all aware that the young actor who played Chekov in the new Star Trek films, Anton Yelchin, had died in an accident before Star Trek Beyond was released. McCoy places a third glass of scotch on the bar, and Kirk and McCoy toast the glass without an owner before they toast one another, saying “To absent friends.” This honoring continued and was made more explicit in the final credits that included two dedications, one to Leonard Nimoy, who died in 2015, and one to Anton Yelchin. As odd as it may sound to some, it is from this family, the Star Trek family both fictional and as it is embodied in its fans, new and old, that I think I first took an understanding of community, an understanding that I have always carried with me.
Seeing Star Trek: Beyond coincided with my reading of How To Be Alive by Colin Beavan, a book in which Beavan explores and lives the idea that we may address the ecological perils we face by examining and then living the values that make us the people we truly want to be. Part of finding and living those values, he explains, is finding your people, the people who reflect who you truly want to be and how you want to live. How do you find them? Beavan suggests that you go to where the people who are like those you are looking for like to hang out and hang out yourself until you meet someone. This could take some time, but when you do meet someone, they will be more likely to be someone who can be a part of making you into the person you want to be.
If you value unity, peace, hard work, and adventure, hang out with some Starfleet officers. If I value art and creativity, I can visit local art museums and galleries. If I value supporting the local economy and growing healthy food, I can join the local food co-op and go to their meetings. If I value reading and literacy and free access to knowledge, I can make good use of the public library and attend some of their activities. If I value my faith, if I value good liturgy and spiritual community, I can register at the local parish. Adopt a family or let them adopt you, Beavan suggests. In the last year friends asked me to be the godmother for their fifth child, and I can give more thought and experiment with them as to what shape my relationship with the whole family may take in the years to come, how I may be, as Beavan calls it, a “social parent.” I can also consider how the idea of a “social parent” may shape how I work with my students as well, because it seems to me the traits that Beavan assigns to a “social parent” are also the traits of any good teacher.
A few years after I entered the monastery, a friend wrote a poem in which he compared living in the monastery to being a part of the Enterprise, and I still think that comparison may have some truth to it. However, having left the monastery, I now have the blessing of the time, the circumstances, the opportunity, and the interest to invest more in my friends and to make new friends. I am more able to be a friend that will stick around long term, a person who is a friend much more by choice rather than due to external circumstances such as work or school or even living in the same monastery. These friends may be people I already know, but they may be new people as well. Either way, they may be the friends, like the crew of the Enterprise, who become family and are a part of my destiny.