Ray Bradbury is 95 years and one day old today. I say “is” because his spirit held too much gusto to disappear completely. Ray Bradbury is also, in perpetuity, eleven and a half. He is sixteen. He is eighteen. He is twenty-four. He is thirty. He is fifty. He is all the ages that enjoy a little magic, that mark miles, that offer a place to look back and a place to look forward.
The world of ideas is a huge one, and I realize I am only one small person within it, but I owe whatever growth I’ve had to Ray Bradbury—the giant who offered up his shoulders to everyone who wanted to see what he was looking at so enthusiastically.
There was a white bookshelf near the foot of the basement stairs in my childhood home that held all the science fiction and fantasy that my Dad loved. If I have one special gift, it’s that I’m able to water witch for things I will love later in life, even if I’m not ready for them right away. I sat there on summer days when there was nowhere else to escape the heat, and I read the spines and sometimes I would admire their covers. So many of them—tucked between Arthur C. Clark and Frank Herbert and Stephen King—were the stories of Bradbury. I loved them in a crush sort of way, and I think I knew that I would love them for real someday.
Not very long after I started reading them, I wrote a fan letter to him that I never sent. It was—like all my writing then, and probably most of my writing now—soaked with maudlin adjectives and packed with ridiculous metaphors. I never sent it, and when I learned of his death in the summer of 2012, I understood that I had missed an opportunity to thank someone for doing some profound good. And I have a strong feeling in my gut that he would have read it, and might have written me a sentence or two back.
I would have died. I would have blasted to the moon or to Mars and just died.
He was pretty famously harumphy about the Internet, and I don’t know if he believed in ghosts (my guess is he did), but I hope that somehow the universe will be kind enough to deliver this letter to him, so that me might know I loved him.
Our character is formed on the knee of aunts and uncles that we collect—people we might never meet in person, but who teach us and inspire us and shape us. Ray Bradbury is my favorite uncle.
In Sam Weller’s The Last Interview, which I read over the past two days in honor of Bradbury’s birthday, Ray returns again and again to his late revelation that his grandfather shaped so much of his future by introducing him to books, to the wonder of progress, to colossal moments that need to remembered in life. Bradbury explains that his grandfather achieved immortality by pouring part of his soul into the soul of his grandson.
I think sometimes about the metaphor behind horcruxes—the objects in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books that allow a person to preserve a piece of their soul to be collected again later. These objects are evil in the story, and the act of dividing your soul requires an act of murder.
But I believe that the opposites of horcruxes exist, and that they are created through acts of love, and that they preserve the best parts of us through time and space.
I hope with great passion and violence that part of Bradbury’s soul is marbled into mine. If I can possess even a sliver of his curiosity, his energy, his authenticity, his tenacity toward his dreams, his poetry, his optimism, his belief in others, his imagination then my life will be a lot of fun to live out.
The Last Interview catches a great man growing very late in time, but in those interviews—conducted often from his bedside because he was too weak to get around much—it catches a man still in love with everything.
His advice, which he has shared a thousand other times in a thousand other places, is to do what you love and love what you do.
I learned a few new incredible things about him in reading these interviews. I knew he never drove a car, but NASA invited him to take the control of their Mars rover briefly, driving it remotely from Earth. They even gave him a small official Martian Drivers License. Is there anything more perfect than that?
He believed libraries with physical books were the best places in the whole world, because those books contained dust—literal and figurative—and ideas that had been pollinating through humanity since the days of ancient Egypt.
Ray Bradbury believed reading made you a pollinator, a bumblebee carrying thoughts and words in its fuzz.
Ray Bradbury, you are loved. And, just as Mr. Electrico prophesied when he touched your head with his electric sword, you will live forever.