Rod Serling: Writer, Teacher, Creator and Prophet
By Thomas Thyros
When I was a child, I watched the Twilight Zone in syndication every chance I got. This was mainly at my grandmother’s house, as she was a fan as well. As we watched, she would try to explain what the meanings of the episodes were. She was good with her explanations!
I didn’t need to fully understand the message; I could wrap my young mind around the moral, the meaning, and come to some conclusion of my own. But one thing was obvious to me at that young age; Rod Serling was different from many of the people that populated my world.
When I hit age 14, I still watched the Twilight Zone every chance I got. But--being more into music, girls, and the things that occupy a young man’s mind--I watched and was entertained, but my mind was elsewhere.
I pursued music (and other things) as Rod Serling took a backseat for quite some time, but neither he nor his lessons, were forgotten. And when I would hear that wondrous music strike up at the beginning of an episode, it would stop me in my tracks.
Fast forward to 1987, and I would get married and my wife and I would start a family. Funny how something so normal can change you in an instant. When you experience the birth of your first child the world--and everything in it--changes, but the change is really only within yourself. Suddenly, everyone you see is someone’s baby; violence seems more barbaric and unnecessary; life is more important than it ever was, and a man’s outlook--previously selfish--is replaced by different thoughts…different ambitions.
It is then that a father begins to think of the world differently, and what he will teach his children; how he wants them to see the world, and how he wants the world to see them.
Something unexpected happened to me with the birth of our first child. I started looking behind me, into the past, for the things that really mattered. I found solace in old memories, and looked for the lessons there that could be applied to the present. Were there lessons, values, there in the past that I could pass on to my new child? A few more years down a life’s road and my wife and I would have four children. Now, I must say, this was more children than I ever wanted! When she and I were married, and discussed having children, I said, “One! We will have one.” She wanted six! She laughs about this today, as she feels she won. Well, fact is--we both won.
We had always watched The Andy Griffith Show, and found that our kids, now old enough to watch and understand, loved the show. Then one day, I came across an episode of the Twilight Zone while flipping through the channels. Of course, I stopped. My kids had not been so quiet in months! Rod Serling was delivering his intro and he held these four usually noisy children in quiet suspense.
At the first commercial break, my oldest son turned and asked, “Dad, who is that man?” I told him, “That is Rod Serling. The Twilight Zone was a series, years ago, and he is the man who created it. If you pay real close attention he has a lot of lessons about humanity, racism…all kinds of things.”
It should go without saying that all of my kids were hooked at that point. This pleased me to no end! My kids--all by themselves, and not one of them yet 10 years of age--had picked Rod Serling and the Twilight Zone! A few years down the road, and one of my kids exclaims, “That Rod Serling is a genius!” My reply, “Yes, he most definitely is!”
Many discussions would take place while we watched the episodes, and through Rod Serling’s genius, my children learned some very valuable lessons; Hate, is not acceptable; avarice, can lead a man or woman into their own hell; a man’s mind can be either a trap, or a key to certain enlightenment. Is it any wonder that the Twilight Zone is taught in schools, its message used as lessons, examples of how to be a better human being?
I feel that in today’s world, we need Rod Serling’s message more than ever. Additionally, I feel that, for all of our so-called enlightenment, we have mistaken some social advancements as positive. However, the lessons of the past may have been misconstrued and so some social evils simply wear a different mask. Race relations have advanced very little; the issue of ones sexual orientation still continuative and heated; the list goes on and on. I believe (albeit presumably) Rod Serling would be at once happy, and yet left wanting. I also believe he would wonder how it is that we as a society have moved so little against our ills over the impending years.
I know I am not alone when I say I cannot imagine a world without Rod Serling, no Twilight Zone. He was as much a teacher as a writer, as much a prophet as a creator, and we were blessed with his presence. The label of, “Icon,” doesn’t quite infuse the totality of the man or his purchase.
Additionally, I believe the genius that was Rod Serling will still enthrall one-hundred years from now the world. He was asked once what he would want people to remember about him when he was gone. He said, “That I was a writer,” or something to that effect. Yet here we are all these years hence, and he is remembered for so much more than this.
I hope that Rod Serling found his Willoughby; those simpler times, those loved ones who slipped past the rim before him, those perpetual warm summer days, the parasol’s floating over the welcoming and smiling faces that greet him there. I hope that he resides in peace in utter repose; that dimension where he can live amongst his ideals, and the world he so wanted us to be. I imagine him traveling into another dimension now, that young child, innocent and unworried. Playing baseball, running through his neighborhood with friends, and carving his initials into the post of a bandstand. And then, in some quiet moment of clairvoyance, maybe he looks into his future, looking past a reality that is his own, and he smiles as if to say, “I found my way home.”