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How Cristóbal Rios Teaches Us to Appreciate the Little Things

La Sirena's captain reminds us that nothing in this life is guaranteed; don't rob yourself of joy.

Three images of Cristóbal Rios, in a captain's uniform and sitting in the captain's chair, are repeated on the left side of the image. These images are blue and outlined in yellow. The right side of the image features an image of Rios, in his 21st century disguise, sitting at Ten Forward.

Welcome to Captain’s Week, a special seven-day cycle where we celebrate the commanding leaders of Starfleet. From fearless trailblazers like Jonathan Archer to skilled and capable leaders like Carol Freeman, these brave individuals will stop at nothing to fulfill the needs of the many. While at the same time, attaining a near celebrity status by those under their command.

Although far from perfect, these titans of galactic exploration teach us valuable lessons on everything ranging from bravery to selflessness. And, while most may look to such classic examples as James T. Kirk, Benjamin Sisko, and Kathryn Janeway, on this Captain’s Week, I look to someone new.

Star Trek: Picard - Santiago Cabrera

While he may not have the same sort of longstanding history as his contemporaries, this man is still very much “Starfleet to the core.” One of the highest-ranking cadets in history, he not only represents the cornerstones of diversity and inclusion that have defined Star Trek for close to 60 years, but also offers us a valuable lesson on the importance of taking time to enjoy the simple things in life. Even when it doesn’t go exactly as we expect...

Join me now as we celebrate the legacy of Captain Cristóbal Rios. Born in Chile, at some point in the mid-24th Century, Cristóbal Rios would rise in the ranks of Starfleet and serve under Captain Alonzo Vandermeer on the U.S.S. Ibn Majid as its executive officer. Eventually discharged for post-traumatic dysphoria as a result of covering up a Black Flag Directive, he would later find himself alone and in command of the starship La Sirena.

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In the years following his termination, Rios was noted as being rather cynical and withdrawn by his ship’s various emergency holograms. However, he was still known for taking the time to indulge his interests from time to time. He could often be found relaxing with a cigar or a glass of pisco brandy. Additionally, he was an avid reader who kept numerous printed books in his quarters – including some by noted philosopher Miguel de Unamuno. At the same time, and no doubt in part due to his Chilean heritage, Rios enjoyed playing soccer on occasion. He was also known for collecting and listening to vinyl records.

Now, while some may look at the above as nothing more than a recounting of Rios’ various interests and hobbies, activities he engaged in simply as a means to pass the time, the fact of the matter is that each can actually teach us a rather valuable lesson. Truth be told, nothing in this fast-paced life of ours is guaranteed.

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While we all have hopes, dreams, and aspirations that we wish to accomplish during our time on this planet, these may not always come to pass. Due to circumstances beyond our control, we may find ourselves unlawfully terminated from a job, separating from a once beloved spouse, getting sick, or being forced to move away from family and friends. When such things happen, we may soon find ourselves becoming more than a little jaded toward our new circumstances. After all, it is only human to express feelings of anger and frustration when things in life don’t happen exactly as we expect them to. As a species, we crave control. When we are unable to maintain it, things can feel overwhelming. However, if not kept in check, these feelings could soon rob us of our joy and cause us to miss out on the activities that, at one time in life, made us so very happy.

Regardless of his negative feelings towards Starfleet due to the circumstances surrounding his departure, Rios successfully kept his emotions in check and continued to find time to appreciate the niceties of life. He still finds appreciation for the little things despite the unexpected twists and turns he had experienced while serving alongside Captain Vandermeer. This is a valuable lesson to be sure, and one that is only further evidenced during his attendance at the Europa banquet in 2024.

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At this particular point in time, Rios once again found himself dealing with circumstances that quickly went beyond his control. Forced back to the past in an effort to fix an alternate future created by Q, the now reinstated Rios could’ve easily allowed himself to spiral out of control – especially given how unjustly he was treated shortly after arriving.

However, instead of allowing his anxieties to get the best of him, Rios actually looked to put an old saying to use — he made the most of a bad situation. While attending the Europa banquet in Los Angeles with Admiral Jean-Luc Picard, Agnes Jurati, and the rest of his friends, Rios expresses a whole new appreciation for the offerings of the 21st Century that really struck a chord with me. His sheer joy at something as simple as lighting a match – and the intricacy of the tiny package that they came in, was a real eye-opener. In fact, one that has continued to stick with me ever since first watching this exchange take place in the Star Trek: Picard episode, “Two Of One.”

Star Trek: Picard - 21st Century Boy

Granted, it is nothing new for us to see someone expressing joy while delving into a delicious appetizer. Nor is it strange for those of us here in 2022 to witness someone enjoying music while at a party. However, when you consider where Rios came from, these seemingly commonplace reactions should take on a whole new meaning for those of us who call this particular time period home.

By 2401, the man was once again a captain within the ranks of Starfleet. The U.S.S. Stargazer was his, and everyone within was under his command. Additionally, his world was a truly fascinating one, characterized by interstellar space travel, the eradication of sickness, and numerous technological marvels that included everything from replicators to robots. And yet, here he was more than 300 years in the past where everything he once knew was pretty much non-existent. Despite this, Rios continued to find things to smile about in this backward, primitive time! Things that we as residents of the 21st Century are known to take for granted more often than not.

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Add to this the fact that Rios even dared to buck at the "conventional" rules of time travel by staying behind and forming a new life with Dr. Teresa Ramirez, and you’ve got a captain that really knew a thing or two about making the best out of a less than desirable situation!

Honestly, upon watching Rios’ story end in Season 2 of Star Trek: Picard earlier this year, I couldn’t help but ask myself how many of us would follow in his footsteps if placed in such a situation? Yes, time travel is impossible. Thus, the chances of being forced back hundreds of years in the past to fix the obnoxious pranks of an intergalactic imp are next to nothing. However, when unexpected situations arise in life, and we all know that they do, how will we allow ourselves to react?

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Do we allow ourselves to become angry and cynical – at least to the point where the simple enjoyments of this world no longer hold any sort of meaning to us? Or, are we willing to brush the dust off and still find things to appreciate regardless of a new set of circumstances? It may not be much, perhaps reading a favorite book, listening to a favorite song, or enjoying a favorite meal. However, as the example of Captain Rios teaches us, these little things really can help us to cope with the uncertainties of life on this big, blue marble. A life that can change on a whim, oftentimes whether we want it to or not.

And this is why I’ve chosen to celebrate the legacy of Cristóbal Rios during this Captain’s Week. While still embodying all of the characteristics of those who came before, it is his ability to remain calm, cool, and positive when things turn upside down that make him an example worth imitating.

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Things may not have turned out exactly how he was expecting on more than one occasion, yet he never allowed anxiety and fear to get the better of him. Rios remained in control and looked for the good wherever he could. Which probably isn’t easy when fighting against an army of assimilated commandos and trying to return the timeline back to normal, all while a self-proclaimed deity looks to stop you and your friends at every given turn all for the glorification of their massive ego.

Bottom line, you ask? Life is beautiful. However, it can also be cruel. It offers no promises, while at the same time, turning things every which way without warning. And yet, when these things happen, let us continue to follow in the footsteps of Captain Cristóbal Rios and strive to look for the good – even in the simplest of things. Food. Drink. Music. Even a box of matches.

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As I said earlier, on the surface, these things may not seem like much, but they’re sure to help us maintain our joy amid the uncertainties of life. And so, as I look to wrap up this latest essay, I am reminded of Rios’ enthusiastic words to Raffi during the Europa gala, “Everything is so intense... it’s dirty, there’s music everywhere and the food is amazing!” Cynical though he may be, perhaps even a little broken, there is little denying that Cristóbal Rios offers up an important lesson in optimism and appreciating even the simplest of things in life – while we still have the time to do so!

Thanks for the lesson, Cris.