It was the future: 1999, back when the 2000s promised flying cars, silver jumpsuits, Y2K, and Jeston’s-like fare. For me, however, I was being introduced to the past. It was then that I went to hear a man named Ray Bradbury speak. At the time, I hadn’t read any of his work, but I sort of recognized the name. I thought it might be interesting to go and see a famous author give a talk, and I had to attend at least one public speaking engagement as a requirement for a theater and film class I was taking at the time, so I went.
I didn’t know what to expect. I thought he’d talk about books, and tell us to stay in school, and all sorts of fluffy nonsense that I’d heard other speakers ramble on about at these sorts of things. But I was in for quite a surprise. Back then, I didn’t know much about Ray Bradbury. I didn’t know how old he was, if there would be many people there to hear him, none of that sort of thing.
When I arrived at the concert venue, home of our local orchestra, and part of the university, the place was fairly full. The balcony section was empty, but everything else had filled up, which was respectable for this part of the world. I sat alone. Behind me sat my high school biology teacher, chatting away with some friends of hers. I’m not sure if she recognized me, I hadn’t been to her class since 10th grade which had ended for me some seven years prior. She knew who he was, and to hear her talk, I was about to witness a living legend. (So I was eavesdropping.)
Then the lights were lowered just slightly. A man took the podium and introduced Mr. Bradbury. Applause. A standing ovation. Then everyone quieted down. To my utter astonishment, he was rolled out into the center of the stage in a wheel chair—not something I was expecting of a living legend. His hair was full, but very white, he looked old, but jubilant, and there was something of joy about him.
He started speaking, talking about what I sort of expected: his career as a writer. At the time, I was a music major and could relate to the struggles that he experienced getting noticed early on. I was captivated as he told the stories about how he first got published, and how his wife’s parents thought she was making a mistake marrying an unproven writer.
Then he told a story of how the Martian Chronicles came to be, and then the impetus for many of his books, including Something Wicked This Way Comes, and The Illustrated Man. It was fascinating. You could see the twinkle in his eye as related details of each story. He was a master story teller even from a wheel chair with a microphone in his hand. There was something infectious about how he spoke. His stories were full of humor, wit, and relatable details that made each story come to life. The audience was captivated, and I felt like he was somehow talking only to me. As if this was a private conversation.
As the evening went on, he switched topics away from stories and writing, and instead talked about a moment in time that he felt was pivotal to his generation. A historical moment that he said was the greatest moment of his life, and the most significant event to take place in the last several hundred, possibly thousand, years of human history.
The date was July 20, 1969. He talked about how the Apollo 11 moon landing was unlike anything he had witnessed before or since. Just to know that when everyone works together, that such amazing feats can be accomplished blew him away. He had this wonderfully positive view of the human race. It was as if the horrors of nuclear weapons, the Cold War, and World War 2 were swept away by this unifying event. It demonstrated what we are capable of. It humbled us, and inspired us all.
This is what I remember from Ray Bradbury.
I was born long after the moon landing, so for me, it had become matter-of-fact. His speech made me rethink the significance of that event. His ideas excited me like nothing had in a long time. And for reasons I still can’t quite articulate, what he said made me want to write. I had never written anything before that day, and it would be another five years before I would try it, but the things he said will stay with me forever. Every time I write, on some level on consciousness, I think of Ray Bradbury.