You know when something profound shows up in an unexpected place? It abruptly leaps up and shouts, "I am everywhere you look!"
I've been watching Star Trek lately. People with plastic stuck to their faces. Warp speed. Technology even more impressive than this flat, square thing I am typing on. The stories of Star Trek take us far out into space and introduce us to alien worlds to tell us about ourselves.
My unexpected hero is the spotted, colorful alien Neelix on Star Trek Voyager. He's helpful and kind, usually trying to please everyone. We know a few harrowing details of his past, the war that claimed most of his world and left few survivors, his hope of reunion with his lost family in the afterlife. But there's more to Neelix than that.
For one thing, he's a funny looking guy with troll hair and a fiendish taylor. He's a character on a television show. Does anything good happen on television? Uh...
Neelix meets a man named Jetrel, the scientist who developed the weapon that destroyed Neelix's world. By the time he and Neelix cross paths, the man has come to his senses and lost his mind with guilt. He will do anything to bring back the people he killed. He is consumed with an invention that will reconstruct all that the original weapon destroyed, literally reassembling people out of thin air. However, he is simply unable to make it work. He can not undo the damage he caused. He can not bring anyone back. His grief is palpable. He doesn't have much time left. He is dying, from the same poison that killed his victims. He has also lost his family because of what he did. Now he is losing his life.
Jetrel is not entirely sympathetic. He blames others, saying he only made the weapon, others used it. He says he saved lives by ending the war. But he is a broken, desperate man, unable to redeem himself even with lies. He is rotting in the immense weight of his sins, trapped, held down, and now dying physically as well.
Neelix hates him. He has every right to. The man is guilty. Neelix is still suffering.
Neelix, goofy, underestimated Neelix, does something that startles, shocks, and restores me. Lovable, childlike, internally grieving Neelix solemnly enters sick bay to confront his ailing enemy. Will he finally unleash years of anger and loss on Jetrel? Maybe he will gloat in his enemy's painful death. But what Neelix does instead is subtle and sudden.
He says simply, "I forgive you."
Neelix forgives and, in the process, sets himself free and stuns his now dying adversary (and me). Jetrel passes away with an expression of astonishment and gratitude on his face.
Why did he do it? There is something innocent in the character of Neelix. He wants to fix, repair, and heal. We find out in this episode that Neelix has a strong sense of his own failings as well. He has a dignified humility, but it comes from knowing his own guilt. He longs to set people free, to heal. When Neelix forgave Jetrel he became better somehow. He was restored.
Jetrel is episode 15, season 1 of Star Trek Voyager