By Merisa Sherman
The water was so calm, you could have heard the drops from the paddle as you glided along if we all weren’t talking and laughing so much. The sunset pinks were just coming up over the sky and the water was taking on the hues as well. We went from being surrounded by a world of blue to being engulfed in the sunset. We stopped paddling, letting our boats float in the open water and allowing ourselves to simply be in the moment. The chatting came to a slow stop and we just sat, silently, as we watched the colors take over the earth.
I always feel that when I watch the sunset from the shoreline that I am an observer. When I paddle out to the middle of the lake or reservoir or pond, the reflection of the water and the 360 degree views always make me feel like I am smack in the middle of the sunset. I am a part of the sunset, rather than simply an observer of the greatness of nature.
But sunset isn’t really of earth, is it? It is a crazy part of outer space, something otherworldly that happens to our planet and all the planets in our solar system and those beyond. The internet is filled with photos of sunsets and sunrises from space — especially with the minute details seen by this new amazing James Webb telescope. It’s stunning to think that what happens way out in space changes the color of our sky. How neat is that?
I was always fascinated by the stars as a child. Well, not really the stars but more like the planets that could be surrounding them — especially the M type planets on which humanoid life could be found. I wanted to travel the stars and meet them all, to seek out new life forms and new civilizations, to godly go where no man — or no one — has gone before.
Yes, I grew up in a “Star Trek” family. My parents were studying engineering and biology respectively at Carnegie Tech when the show first came out. They told stories of dad’s fraternity basement packed with students to watch the weekly episode. All nerds, they would try to replicate all the inventions of the future — the sliding doors that opened automatically when the prop guys remembered their cue, the communicators, warp engines, phasers, transporter beam or the universal translator.
But I wasn’t interested in technology. I was focused on the political aspects, the idea of the Prime Directive and how we should let cultures develop on their own without interference. To let people be who they were meant to become without pressuring them with alien technology and theories. I loved figuring out how each culture differed from our own and how all these puzzle pieces of planets fit together into one beautiful world of outer space.
What I realized as I got older, was that women were everywhere in Star Trek, most specifically Lt. Nyota Uhura played by Nichelle Nichols. Yes, the yeomen were these cute little girls with blond hair, but Uhura was a formidable presence at the communications station. She was simply badass. I loved that she was black and wore a sexy uniform, all I could see was that women were included and powerful. As she got older, they didn’t replace her with a younger model. They let her be her badass self.
The world said farewell to Nichelle Nichols this past week and, honestly, I burst into tears. Here was a woman who took an acting job and quietly became a spokesperson for a multi-cultural NASA and could claim to be Martin Luther King, Jr’s biggest fan. She showed us a future where women weren’t just on a starship but on the bridge. Where black women could kiss a white man in public, even if only in an alternate universe. A future where women were respected leaders.
While everyone wanted to be Princess Leia, I wanted to be on the bridge of that beautiful starship. I wanted to be Lt. Uhura. In fourth grade, I even wrote a story where I was somehow transported into the future and met her. I still have it. In junior high, I went through a red and black phase — I know, very dangerous to wear red on an away mission. And yes, a few years I finally had the courage to admit my love of “Star Trek” and wore my Uhura costume to the Wobbly.
I grew up in an era where girls were told we could do anything, but were given Barbies and My Little Ponies and wore pink everywhere. We might have been told we could do anything, but we weren’t allowed to fight or fly or speak out against harassment. Lt. Uhura wore red and black power boots and held a phaser just like any other member of the crew. While everyone else talked about women in power, Nichelle and Uhura showed us what the future could be. I will be forever grateful to my parents for introducing me to the world of “Star Trek.” Thank you, Nichelle, for being so formidably amazing. LL&P.