One of the things I made time for was to have brunch yesterday morning with my best friend Jim, who I met nearly 30 years ago when we attended Eastern Illinois University together. As always, we had a great and far-ranging talk. And of course, being the big Trekkie dorks that we are, we talked about Star Trek, including Jim's favorite episode, "The Inner Light." It reminded me of something that happened about 7 or 8 years ago.
When I was still a teacher, and not a nursing student, I took advantage of the 1/2 price teacher rate on the New York Times (for now, I have to settle for reading it online). One day, I read of a huge auction of props from Star Trek-- a couple of the movies, but mostly from the series "Star Trek: The Next Generation." And included in the auction, according to the article, was a specific prop from "The Inner Light;" the flute that is the "Macguffin" of the episode.
In the episode, the Enterprise comes upon a small object, obviously built by someone, in the middle of nowhere in space. The object has only electronics and a single item: a flute.
The object is beamed aboard for examination, and suddenly the commander, Captain Piccard is striken unconcious. He awakes-- or so he thinks-- on a planet called "Kataan." The people around him think that he is Kamin, a fellow inhabitant. At first, he is confused, but as time goes on, he begins living his life as Kamin, living with his wife Eline, and eventually their children.
As Picard settles into his life and work as Kamin, he begins to accept the life among the inhabitants, who are peaceful, intelligent and resourceful. He even pursues a hobby, playing a flute, composing a song as he becomes more and more proficient.
Over the decades, a sad fact becomes clear, something he is the first to discover; the star that is Kataan's sun is growing, and will eventually make life uninhabitable on the planet. As it becomes apparent that the people of Kataan do not have the resources or knowledge to save the planet, they do the next best thing-- create a spacecraft that will save, for some future space traveller, the knowledge of the enlightened life that the soon-to-be-extinct beautiful people led. As the probe is launched, Kamin is very, very old. The people in his life reveal what this has been. PIccard awakes and discovers that he's only been unconcious for less than an hour. He has lived this lifetime in moments. He also discovers that the flute he has been playing in his fugue state was in the probe-- and that he can now play the tune he learned in his dream. He realizes that he has become the receptacle of the knowledge, sweat and dreams-- and end-- of an entire doomed civilization.
When I read the New York Times article, and discovered that the flute prop used in the episode was one of the things that was being auctioned-- and expected to sell for about $400-- I began furiously trying to figure out how I was going to get to the auction. I had figured out how I was going to come up with the dough-- picking up a couple of extra shifts at my second job as a waiter. But in the end, I couldn't work out a way to get to the auction. I felt bad-- it would have made the best Christmas or birthday present ever for Jim.
I didn't feel as bad a few years ago when I saw a television program on that auction. It turned out that the prop flute-- which Patrick Stewart, the actor who portrayed Piccard/Kamin pointed out, was not even a functional flute, but a prop-- was one of the most sought-after props in the auction; "The Inner Light" is the favorite episode of many of the show's fans. It had sold for about $40,000. There would have been no way I could have gotten the prop. It may be just as well-- the story has become one more story in a friendship that is playing out in real life and real time, a friendship that, as it approaches thirty years, is better than ever. And that is something that even $40,000 can't buy.