The Inner Light

Recently, BBC America aired a Star Trek: The Next Generation marathon that included my all-time favorite episode, “The Inner Light.” In this episode, the Enterprise encounters an unmanned probe which directs an energy beam at Captain Picard, rendering him unconscious.

Picard awakes to find himself on the surface of a planet called Kataan, with a woman who identifies herself as his wife and tells him that he is Kamin, an iron-weaver recovering from a fever. When Picard talks of his memories of being on the Enterprise, his wife and friends tell him that his memories are only dreams.  Picard begins living out his life as Kamin in the village of Ressik, starting a family of two children and learning how to play the flute.  When he discovers the planet is suffering from a drought due to increased radiation from the planet’s sun, Picard suggests that the government evacuate even a small colony’s worth of people before the planet is rendered uninhabitable, but the government official points out that their race does not possess the technology.

Years pass, and Kamin grows old, continuing his scientific studies of the planet with his daughter and suffering the death of his wife.  He and his daughter discover that the drought is not temporary and the extinction of life on the planet is inevitable. He encourages his daughter to marry soon, saying, “Seize the time, Meribor – live now! Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.” He agrees to let his son pursue the life he wants because “who knows how much time he’ll have to follow any dream.”

One day, he is taken by his adult children to see the launch of a rocket. Knowing their planet is doomed, the planet’s leaders placed the memories of their culture into a probe in the hope that it would find someone who could tell others about them. Picard then realizes that it is him, saying, “It’s me, isn’t it? I’m the someone…I’m the one it finds.”  His wife then re-appears as her younger self, telling him, “The rest of us have been gone a thousand years. If you remember what we were…and how we lived…then we’ll have found life again.”

Picard wakes up on the Enterprise to learn that only 25 minutes have passed. The crew tracked the probe’s course back to a planet whose sun went nova 1,000 years earlier. After the inactive probe is brought aboard the Enterprise, the crew finds a small box containing Kamin’s flute. Picard, now adept at the instrument, plays the melody he learned during his life as Kamin.

So Picard, the captain of the starship Enterprise, lived an entire lifetime on Kataan, marrying and having children, learning skills and pursuing interests, all in the timeframe of 25 minutes. All these memories are intact when he reawakens into his life as Captain Picard. And, though the experience was not real, it feels very much like reality to Picard. It was deep and emotionally satisfying in ways that his life on the Enterprise could never have been.

It is interesting to note that, during the Christie’s auction of Star Trek memorabilia, the Ressikan flute was auctioned off for $48,000, though it was merely a prop and cannot be played.  Christie’s originally estimated the sale price at $300, but because the flute generated so much “emotional fury”, it sold for a much higher price. Why do you think that is?

I think it’s because it is a symbol of something we all long for: fulfilling relationships, a meaningful life, and rich emotional experiences with friends and loved ones and especially with ourselves, even in the face of certain death.

Because who knows how much time we’ll have to follow our dreams? Now is always the most precious time. Now will never come again.

Because it’s you. You are the captain of your own starship. That probe is out there looking for you.

You are the someone.

All you need to do is remember.