William Shatner: Aware

Photo by Michael Hampton

Saturday morning in the Hilton Grand Salon, Dragon Con’s Trek track welcomed the ever-captivating William Shatner. In classic form, Shatner regaled the crowd with stories and insights drawn from a lifetime of experience. This was particularly the case given that it is his first Dragon Con since traveling into space on Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin spacecraft. That experience added another dimension to his life and perspective. While cognizant of his own mortality (at the age of 90), Shatner sees his life as one “filled with horizons” toward which he continues to journey.

The over-arching theme of his remarks was clearly that of awareness. Shatner spoke of an “arc” of the universe which, if you’re sensitive to and aware of it, can lead to moments of import and new opportunities. He illustrated the arc, and its impact upon his life, through his adventures in music. What began as a less than successful foray into the recording industry decades ago, accompanied by a disastrous appearance and performance of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds on the Johnny Carson show, finally came full circle when he was approached about doing an album with the help of Ben Folds. The album is composed of songs based upon Shatner’s life experiences. That production, in turn, led to a 6 song performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. One of the songs he’s most proud of from that album, and that he performed at the Kennedy Center, is “So Fragile, So Blue,” which is based upon his flight into space. The performance was a success and he’s very pleased with the album. So, for him, the “arc” of the universe is very real and if you’re aware of it there will be great possibilities.

He also spoke of his long engagement with environmentalism and how his flight heightened his sensitivity to it. Much influenced by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, originally published in 1962 as a clarion call to the damage being done to the environment by the chemical industry, Shatner is keenly aware of and sensitive to the impact of climate change and global warming. His song “So Fragile, So Blue” derives from the reaction he had to seeing the earth from space. He remembers looking down at the earth and seeing blue while when he gazed up into space he saw black. For him, the blackness of space represented death while the blue earth was life. Experiencing that contrast and knowing that humanity was engaged in the destruction of that little blue ball led Shatner not to celebrate the success of his flight with his crew mates but rather to grieve.

He had a chance to further reflect on these themes when asked how he dealt with science deniers. He used the Webb telescope, a multibillion-dollar instrument being used for research into the very origins of the universe, to illustrate not only the power of pure research but to assert that to deny knowledge, and the search for it, is essentially to deny the essence of human nature. It is curiosity, Shatner believes, that defines us. We want to understand our world, how it came to be, and how it functions. So, he maintained, to deny science and the quest for it is to deny one’s own humanity.

True to form, after his remarks he engaged in lively banter with members during the Q&A. Shatner particularly enjoyed chatting with a newlywed couple celebrating their marriage. When they told him they had married just days before, you could see in his face a reaction that reflected a lifetime of experience and the awareness those experiences bring.

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