Now 91-years-old, William Shatner of Star Trek fame holds the distinction of being the oldest person to ever travel into space. It was just last fall when the actor rode aboard Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin Rocket – a major component of the Amazon mogul’s private space travel company.
As Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise on Star Trek, Shatner played a strong, quirky, risk-taking, melodramatic character. But one of the recurring themes manifest in his role was a fear of being alone – a difficult tick given his assignment of navigating a spaceship through the vast and empty cosmos.
In a day and age when the lines between Hollywood and real life tend to grow increasingly thin, Shatner’s invite to join the Blue Origin crew was a stroke of public relations genius. It was a seemingly fitting blend of fiction with fact, and a move that elicited and generated the media Bezos had anticipated.
But now it seems that Captain Kirk and William Shatner may be more closely linked than previously thought. In a new memoir out last week, Boldly Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and Wonder, Shatner laments the sadness and loneliness of outer space.
“I had thought that going into space would be the ultimate catharsis of that connection I had been looking for between all living things—that being up there would be the next beautiful step to understanding the harmony of the universe,” the actor writes. “In the film ‘Contact,’ when Jodie Foster’s character goes to space and looks out into the heavens, she lets out an astonished whisper, ‘They should’ve sent a poet.’ I had a different experience, because I discovered that the beauty isn’t out there, it’s down here, with all of us. Leaving that behind made my connection to our tiny planet even more profound.”
Shatner has a point, to a degree. It’s impossible to overstate the beauty of planet earth. Especially now, as autumn slides toward winter, and the leaves on the trees turn their golden yellow, orange and bright red hues. Then there is the increasingly crisp morning and evening air, soon to be followed by snow and all the charms of winter.
There is even more beauty in people, of course. In the smile and cry of a newborn baby, the squeal of innocent children, the joy of romantic love, family togetherness, the fun of friendship and a million other little things that aren’t really so little. There’s the satisfaction of a good book, the taste of a delicious meal and hobbies that hold so mant memories for so many – fishing, hunting, playing a musical instrument, dancing, painting, drawing, camping, golf, tennis, running, baseball, football, basketball or hockey, to name just a few. Life on earth is wondrous and beautiful.
But then Shatner continued:
“It (my short time in space) was among the strongest feelings of grief I have ever encountered,” he added. “The contrast between the vicious coldness of space and the warm nurturing of Earth below filled me with overwhelming sadness. Every day, we are confronted with the knowledge of further destruction of Earth at our hands: the extinction of animal species, of flora and fauna . . . things that took five billion years to evolve, and suddenly we will never see them again because of the interference of mankind. It filled me with dread. My trip to space was supposed to be a celebration; instead, it felt like a funeral.”
But you know what? Though we would quibble and question and challenge much of Shatner’s descriptive analysis, Christians would not disagree with his cold conclusion.
That’s because without a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, anything beyond this life on earth is a funeral.
William Shatner grew up in a Jewish household. “My father and mother had an observant religious life,” he once said. “They went to temple every Sabbath, prayed to God, and I was dragged along. I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual. I read avidly on philosophy and animals, plants and trees; how connected all of life is.”
It’s no wonder that someone with such a worldview would feel a degree of such profound grief when taken up into the darkness of the heavens. That’s because for someone with that point of view, earth is all there is – and however beautiful it might be, it’s never going to be beautiful enough – and it’s not going to last.
Of all the things William Shatner’s Captain Kirk character is best remembered for saying, his cry, “To boldly go where no man has gone before!” is probably the most iconic. But the very best news for all of us is that because Jesus Christ went to the cross and died for us – we now have the privilege of living forever with Him in Eternity – the most wondrous and most beautiful place where our fellow believers have gone before us.