Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ray Bradbury--Goodbye

"Joy is the grace we say to God for his gifts given."
                            --Ray Bradbury

There are certain books that make you glad to be alive. When I learned yesterday that Ray Bradbury, the author had died at the age of 91 I remembered the debt I owe to him. Two of his books helped open my eyes to the world around me. First, it was Dandelion Wine. The second book was Fahrenheit 451. That first book tells the wonderful story of a twelve-year old one summer. He discovers the magic and wonder of being alive. He also has to come fact to face with death--but he finally comes to feel that life is stronger than death.

I remember someone in the book inventing what he called The Happiness Machine, you'd enter that contraption and suddenly you would be happy. The problem is the machine just did not work. You'd enter the contraption and nothing happened. Douglas comes to the realization that the only happiness machine there is resides in one's family. Nothing else was more important.  Even after all these years I still think about that book.

The second  book is entitled Fahrenheit 451. Strange and futuristic and prophetic, I think. It is the story of a fireman Guy Montag whose job it is to burn books in a mythical city in America. Years before a special interest group and a small cadre of very vocal people objected to certain books and called their ideas dangerous. Rather than permit conflict and varying opinions in their town they decided to burn all books. The people in that town do not read books, enjoy nature--spend time alone or have meaningful conversations with one another. Most of them sit in front of huge TV screens and while their lives away.

The fireman meets an old Professor that teaches him abut awareness and fresh ideas and a freedom to read and think what he wishes. Montag is blown away by this idea. Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature in which a book will burn. It seems to me that it would be a good idea for people to read this book and ponder its implications. We live in a world where there is little dialogue across the chasms that divide us. This is a mean-spirited time in which we don't talk to the opposition and we certainly don't respect ideas that vary from ours.

Once years ago I wanted to use a quote from one of his books and had to get permission from the author. Ray Bradbury wrote me back a handwritten note and said certainly I could use that quote. Along with that little note he sent me a Christmas poem that he had sent out to his friends that year. I still have that poem. It began: "Joy is the grace we say to God for His gifts given." And this gift called Ray  Bradbury has brought me joy through the years.

The quote I asked permission to use comes from Fahrenheit 451.  I have used it in more funerals than I remember. I think it is a good a tribute to Ray Bradbury as anything that could be said about this marvelous human being.

"Everyone must leave something behind when he dies...A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched someway so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there. It doesn't matter what you long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching. The lawncutter might just as well not have been there at all: the gardener will be there a lifetime."

Interestingly enough Ray Bradbury was quoted as saying, "The great thing about my life is that everything I've done is a result of what I was when I was 12 or 13." He was a prolific writer  and his tales have appeared in books and magazines and movies and television screens. In many ways he was like twelve-year old Douglas. He said he was inspired to become a writer after a chance meeting with a carnival magician who tapped him with a sword and said, "Live forever!" As you read his books you can see the magic and wonder of life flowing through  what he wrote. He certainly lived up to that Benediction that magician gave him as a boy.

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