Volunteer Holly reminisces about the works of a literary giant.
Why does it seem that famous people die in clusters? According to OnTheRedCarpet.com, 2012 has already taken many actors, musicians and others who have impacted not only their industry but also my childhood. These names include: Maurice Sendak who wrote “Where the Wild Things Are,” Richard Dawson of Family Feud, Robin Gibb of the BeeGees, the often thought immortal Dick Clark, David Jones from The Monkees (my first secret crush), and Whitney Houston, who many are still mourning. But despite the tightness in my stomach that came with the passing of each of these significant people, I believe the news hit me the hardest when I heard that Ray Bradbury had passed away on June 4th at the age of 91.
As a child, I finished my homework before dinner every night for straight two weeks, an unheard of feat, because that was the requirement to stay up and watch the Martian Chronicles on TV with my parents. My father would fill in the gaps in the story that Hollywood left out, so I absorbed the meaning behind the scenes and became immersed in the new world the humans were trying to create on Mars. I took to heart the message Bradbury conveyed, the warning that humans should not take lightly the impact we have on everything we touch. When looking around the ruined Martian city they were about to inhabit, the character Major Jeff Spender said, “We’ll change it to suit ourselves. And ruin it. Just like we’ve ruined Earth.”
In his short story “There Will Come Soft Rains,” Bradbury explored the concept that humans will bring on our own demise through exploration and innovation. The original version of the story was written in the late 40’s after the bomb dropped in Japan killed hundreds of thousands of people. He took the emotions he must have felt, including his disappointment in the human race, and made it clear that he had little faith that we were capable of change. The story is about a “Smart Home” that continues to function after all who live in it have died from a nuclear disaster. Breakfast is cooked, dishes are cleaned, baths are drawn by a house so industrious it almost seems to breathe. But there are no humans to enjoy the luxuries of their inventions. When a fire breaks out, even robotic life comes to an end:
The house was shuddering, oak bone on bone, the bared skeleton cringing from the heat, all the wires revealed as if a surgeon had torn the skin off to let the red veins quiver in scalded air. Voices screamed, “Help, help, fire, run!” Windows snapped open and shut, like mouths undecided…Ten dozen high, shrieking voices died, as emergency batteries melted.
As a person who grew up loving literature, I most identified with and sought inspiration from writers such as Ray Bradbury. I would read his works looking for ways to improve my own. I marveled at his descriptions, his insightfulness, his ability to look beyond what we can see and to create new worlds that help us keep our own world in perspective. I also learned life lessons from him that I have carried with me through the years. His books have also given me the opportunity to pass on life lessons to my children, the way my parents did with me.
I was overjoyed when my son was assigned Fahrenheit 451 in school. The book opened doors to conversations that flowed long after the dinner plates were cleared. Bradbury’s book connected us on a level we never would have reached on our own and helped my son shape opinions about the world he was just beginning to discover. We lived the concept that Bradbury himself explained, “The magic is…in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.”
Looking back, I realize that Bradbury’s works have shaped many stages of my life and even my outlook on humanity. Even though much of what he wrote was a warning against the imperfections of man and his faulty creations, I also find that he leaves me with hope and encouragement that the human race isn’t all bad. With writers such as Ray Bradbury showing us glimpse of ourselves we will hopefully avoid making the mistakes he warned us of. As I reflect on why I mourned the loss of such a great writer, I think of a quote from Fahrenheit 451:
When he died, I suddenly realized I wasn’t crying for him at all, but for the things he did. I cried because he would never do them again… He was individual. He was an important man… He shaped the world… The world was bankrupted of ten million fine actions the night he passed on.