07 June 2012

LIFELONG PASSION

One of my best memories from elementary school is having Dandelion Wine read to my third grade class. The name of the teacher who read it to us way back then in the 1970s is lost to me now, but I can effortlessly picture myself sitting there, listening in rapt attention as the story unfolded.

The name of the book's author stuck with me, too, because when NBC began advertising the television adaptation of a sci-fi novel called The Martian Chronicles a little while later, my ears pricked up at the mention of Ray Bradbury. I don't remember if my Mom already had the book or if I pestered her into buying it, but I still have the same knackered copy in my possession today. I couldn't tell you a thing about the NBC's adaptation, but the book itself was a classic and remains one of my all-time favorites.

I don't read science fiction much these days – in fact, it's rare that I read fiction at all these days, unless it's comics – but I tore through a ton of it when I was a kid. And as much as I enjoyed the work of Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. LeGuin, Robert A. Heinlein, Frank Herbert, Phillip K. Dick and too many others to list here, there was always something about Ray Bradbury's stories I just liked more.

As an adult working in comics, I loved the fact that Bradbury was a fairly regular fixture at the San Diego Comicon. I never actually met him, but I recall seeing him there. Ray Bradbury walking down one of the massive convention corridors. Ray Bradbury on the escalator. Ray Bradbury at the Marriott.

Sadly, my most vivid memory of him from the con is from a few years ago, Ray Bradbury in a wheelchair, looking more frail than I would expect of anyone attempting to navigate the massive wave of humanity that crashes over the con floor nowadays. On one hand, I thought it was incredible that he was there at all, given his poor health, but on the other, it made me nervous, because if you've been to the show, you know what the crowds are like and how easy it is for someone to be jostled around. I couldn't put a year on when that was, but it was the last time I saw him at the convention. 

The last time ever, as it turns out.

It's often said that it's a tragedy when anyone dies, but Ray Bradbury passed away quietly in his sleep at the age of 91. He didn't die tragically. He died victoriously. He lived a long, wonderful life doing what he loved, and those he didn't infuse with the urge to go out and tell their own stories, he at least inspired to read, to imagine.

My friend and co-worker Jonathan Chan directed me to a great quote from Ray Bradbury that accompanied one of his many obituaries. It's such a wonderful epitaph, attempting to follow it with more clumsy accolades would just seem insincere, so I'll close with some truly inspirational words from the great man himself:

"In my later years I have looked in the mirror each day and found a happy person staring back. Occasionally I wonder why I can be so happy. The answer is that every day of my life I worked only for myself and for the joy that comes from writing and creating. The image in the mirror is not optimistic, but the result of optimal behavior."