In season two of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, in an episode entitled “Among the Lotus Eaters,” the crew of the Enterprise finds themselves strangely affected by the mysterious properties of the planet Rigel VII.
They’ve traveled to the planet at the insistence of Starfleet. Something troubling has been discovered, and the Enterprise is the ship tasked with investigating. The captain, the doctor, and the security chief land on the planet to sort things out.
Here’s the thing: Rigel VII is a planet contaminated by radiation. And that radiation does things to the mind. Once people are in range of Rigel VII—whether orbiting the planet in a ship or on its surface—they begin to hear a ringing sound, are consumed by inordinate fear, lose track of time and—most importantly—experience the “forgetting.”
The “forgetting” is exactly what it sounds like: affected people forget the details of their lives. They’re left with a sense of who they are—vague feelings, ideas that exist at the periphery of the mind’s eye, a fuzzy concept of things—but they are bereft of the vivid images, faces, names, and events that make up a life story.
Captain Pike is determined to undo the “forgetting.” He’s confident that if he can just get inside the walls of the palace, all will be well. He says as much to Luq, the local guide who has been helping Pike and the rest of the landing party navigate the intricacies of Rigel VII politics.
But Luq is reluctant. He doesn’t want to have his memories back. He’s fine living in the moment, not knowing who he was—and who he might have been to others. He doesn’t think the details of his days matter. And he’s afraid remembering will necessitate pain.
Star Trek, of course, is science fiction. But I don’t think we need to reach too far into a fictional world to find parallels with our very real lives.
How many of us accompany loved ones who struggle to pinpoint the details of their own stories? How many of us struggle to come to terms with the details of our own?
The character Luq is a compelling one. He’s an earnest man, determined to help strangers, even at risk to himself. These are qualities of a good and decent human being. And yet, he is afraid of what his memories will reveal—of the suffering he might find therein.
In the end, Luq does agree to follow Pike. He allows his memories to return. As a result, Pike finds him sobbing in the corner of the palace’s main hall at the episode’s conclusion.
“I had a family, a son,” he says. “I was wrong before. The story of your life, the details. They matter.”
That’s a beautiful line. And for us in the Ignatian tradition, it points directly to the Examen. Ignatius has given us a tool to sift through the details of our days and to hold those details up to the light like gemstones and marvel in their elegance. Even in the pain, the suffering, and the hardship, the details of our lives reflect to us a God who is intimately concerned with our very being. And so, even in sorrow, we have the audacity to be grateful.
Even in sorrow, we have the audacity to be grateful.
Luq’s line, too, poses a question to us: What would our lives look like without the Examen? Without the ability to bask in the details of our very selves, to see them glow with the grace of our loving God? How do we decipher who we are—and who we can be—without the context of who we’ve been?
In time, for various reasons, details fade. We may not be captives on Rigel VII, but our memories dim from the effects of disease, of time, of life.
And so, the Examen becomes not only a tool for ourselves but a tool we use with and for others. We hold up those gemstones from one another’s lives; we remind one another who we are—and who we are to each other.
It’s a hard, heart-wrenching task. But there’s joy to be found.
And so, we give thanks. Because the stories of our lives, the details—they matter.