I had a family growing up, but it wasn’t a family that embraced love. We lived together, but we didn’t share much beyond that. For the longest time, I thought that was the way it was with all families. I didn’t see anything differently even on television as my father chose what we watched, which didn’t include any feel-good series or anything that could even remotely be considered family-oriented.
I was barely out of high school when Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered, and I was instantly fascinated by this group of people who were so much more than a captain and his crew. The bonds they shared, their unyielding love for each other, and their loyalty encapsulated the type of family I’d always wanted. Most of them had never met one another before they found themselves aboard the Enterprise, but there was an immediate acceptance and camaraderie I couldn’t understand.
Whether it was the brotherhood between Lt. Commander La Forge and Lt. Commander Data or the father/son bond between Captain Picard and Wesley Crusher, Star Trek: The Next Generation had family ties woven into the fabric of each episode. The characters were strangers that came together and formed a galactic family in this imaginary world.
During The Next Generation’s final season, I made a friend who, I didn’t know at the time, would become the first leg of a family I created. Like the Enterprise crew, I met her at work, and there was an instant connection I couldn’t explain. And I doubt I would have believed it was possible had I not seen it unfolding on my television screen each week.
Through faithfully watching this series, I saw a family embracing one another, building one another up, and offering support. These things were strange to me, and even though these weren’t real people in real scenarios, I knew it had to be possible because someone had written these episodes. So, somewhere, someone had experienced this type of commitment to the point where they were comfortable writing about it and incorporating it into these characters’ lives.
As the years passed, I made more friends, most of them at work, and I was able to take what I had learned from Captain Picard and his crew and apply it to my everyday life. While it might sound strange to know someone placed so much stock in what happened on a television series, I saw the episodes as lessons I didn’t learn in school or at home.
Though things weren’t always perfect aboard the Enterprise, there was always a search for a solution. No one gave up or turned their back on their crew members. Yes, there were some difficult decisions that had to be made, but they came from a place of honor and love.
I’m in my 50s now, and I’ve maintained the friendships that started with the final season of The Next Generation, and I’ve continued to follow the actors of the series, watching as they, too, have continued the friendships they made on that show. No, the characters weren’t real, but the people who brought them to life are, and as I see them on social media now, it’s clear the connection was real.
It took me a long time to learn that family could be chosen and not just blood-related. Well, actually, it took me about seven years. And I continued learning as I tuned in to other Star Trek series because they didn’t just show good space battles and futuristic weaponry and technology, they revealed the layers of human nature. There were good times and bad times, but each crew always came together in the end. That was love.
No matter the series, Star Trek has always been about friendships, support, teamwork, and family. Many of the people aboard these starships didn’t have anyone at home they could count on, but Starfleet gave them that. No matter where they came from, no matter how horrible their childhood was, they found a place to belong.
My friends have done the same for me, but it was the knowledge I gained from watching Star Trek that helped me discover how to not only be a friend but a non-biological family member. Through the words of Star Trek writers, I discovered how to become a part of a family, and I gained the wisdom I needed to maintain those ties even when times were tough. Those lessons were invaluable, and even today, I can always glean some new truths when I watch an episode of Star Trek.
I am a better person thanks to Star Trek: The Next Generation. I am a friend and loved one that was shaped by a fictional world that was very real to me. And thanks to that world, I can live in this one as part of a family unit.
Rachel Carrington is a freelance writer and author whose work can be found a Startrek.com, The New York Times, The Writer, and Short-Edition as well as many others. Find her on Twitter @rcarrington2004.