(The following are notes that boiled out of my subconscious at 3:00 a.m. on June 12, 2012. I followed them pretty closely when I spoke at Ray's funeral services later that morning.)
The language of remembrance and the language of hope are the same. Ray and I became very close in the last few years, in the way that an old man remembering the past and a young man hoping for the future sometimes do. During recent months it's been my blessing to hold Ray's hand and to read his works aloud to him.
Ray saved me twice. The first time was in junior high school when I read his books. The Halloween Tree was published when I was 12 years old--isn't that a fine thing? I was a late-bloomer, very short and skinny, and I was having a hard time of it in school, dodging bullies and hiding science-fiction paperbacks in my locker. And I went to one of his local appearences, to see him speak and to get my little stack of books signed.
And thank God I brought my tape recorder, because he said to me: "A boy your age must dream himself into new shapes. You have to romance yourself into becoming!" And he told me about his love for Oz, and for Edgar Rice Burroughs, and I thought, my God, this man is as crazy as I am, and all these people are here to get his autograph! And I still have that recording, and it's been a comfort to me over the years.
The second time was when I showed up on his doorstep at the dawn of this century. I'd made all the wrong decisions in my life, and he said: "Sit down. Speak." And I began spouting all the same crazyness as when I was twelve! And we were fools gladly met.
After that our visits got more and more frequent. We talked about cats. We tossed crackers to the birds that visited his patio door. And we discovered that we both knew about the secret madness that strikes when you peer into a pumpkin, or hear wind in the trees, or touch any object that's been loved and used and softened by time.
We didn't talk a whole lot about his career. I brought him little touchstones from around the neighborhood--golfballs, birdnests, bits of iron from the demolished railroad tracks. He enjoyed these treasures, and sent me to find more. We examined his own treasures too. The look on his face when we found his father's pipe taught me more about life than any lecture. Ray's eyes were so naked. His soul rose right up to the surface. He shone like a lamp.
And I began reading to him. Sometimes his mail, sometimes a short story, and finally--one after another--his classic novels.
Ray made me work for the pleasure. He had me write a poem every time I came over, and read that to him first. And if it was bad he'd say it was good, and if it was okay he'd say it was unbelievable. Even in the hospital, he asked, "Did you bring your poem?" He wasn't in great pain, but the doctors had their work cut out for them, and it wasn't comfortable. But he was still thinking of other people.
Ray was good company. It didn't matter what we talked about. Dip anything into a beautiful mind, and candy will crystalize on it. He was witty without being cynical. "I wake up in the morning," he told me, "and I'm Ray Bradbury...isn't that amazing?" We laughed. He wasn't being vain, he was poking fun at himself. Just last month he asked me how a dinner date went. "Truthfully Ray," I said, "I couldn't wait to get home to my cat." Without missing a beat he answered: "You're not a womanizer, you're a catalyst." I just blinked.
Some folks don't like the idea of living forever. But it's not living forever that would be bad. It's winding down forever. Ray knew the trick of winding himself back up. Don't second guess yourself. Love what you love. Avoid fools.
Heck, he even gave fools the benefit of a doubt. Ray was really, really NICE.
People gossip. Some think he lost his marbles a long time ago. "He's mad!" they'll say. "He doesn't like the INTERNET." Well we know that's nonsense. Ray was sharp as a tack and twice as pointed. He was just tired. His body was turning traitor on him. His eyesight was failing, he couldn't work the keyboard--why should he love the internet?
He had more important things to love. First and foremost, he had his family. His beloved Maggie. His four wonderful daughters, Sue, Mona, Tina and Zee, and his sons-in-law, and his grandchildren. Next, he had all of his amazing friends. His caregivers should get the Medal of Honor; they made it possible for him to turn aside from the hardships of his advancing age. And finally...he had Hickory Burgers! Onions and mustard please, no lettuce. And pineapple malts, and Butterfinger bars!
And he had his passions. The man whose tales were filled with shadows was a fierce lover of light. And the light was language. It was laughter and the glad exchange of ideas.
Ray wasn't perfect. The man who was afraid of cars crashed into himself sometimes, the way we all do. But he didn't sharpen the pieces and make them into knives. He cut them into shining gems or sanded them down into soft glass pebbles. They remain glittering along the shore, drawing us out of ourselves, offering life and light in answer to death and darkness.
Ray found me struggling like a caterpillar on a hot sidewalk, and he put me back onto the cool green grass. He didn't do it with physical strength or intellectual cleverness. He did it by opening his heart.
If I could isolate some message to convey from his bedside, it would be that we must do the same. We must summon ourselves to the feast. We mustn't shy away from love's bitter sting. Because time is short and our business is important.
Some lines from a poem by A. E. Houseman have been going through my mind, and I'd like to recite them:
From far, from eve and morning
And yon twelve-winded sky,
The stuff of life to knit me
Blew hither: here am I.
Now, for a breath I tarry
Nor yet disperse apart,
Take my hand quick and tell me,
What have you in your heart.
I'm glad I got to hold onto your hand. I'll try to be worthy of what you gave me. I love you. And I'm so very proud to be one of your many grateful children. Now...and forever.
Your remembrance of the Celebration of Mr. Bradbury's life captures perfectly the meaning of true friendship and love!
I have made a special copy of your beautiful message. It will hold an honored place in my library of treasures from Mr. Bradbury. (He so generously shared volumes of letters, cards, and books with my family and students for nearly twenty years.)
In recent days, I have heard from countless teachers, students, librarians, and relatives who have expressed their sadness knowing of the kindnesses Mr. Bradbury exchanged with us. Your words, Mr. Goodwin, reflect the love Mr. Bradbury extended to all who were moved by his words and shared in his wonderful spirit!
fjp451: If my words reflected even a little of the light that was Ray's kindness, then I forgive myself their inadequacy. Thank YOU sir.
Phil and everybody: Terry Pace is a gracious gentleman who's known Ray longer than myself, and done enormous service to Ray's works with his Pillar Of Fire theater company. His own tribute sparkled like a lake.
Just when I hadn't cried in a few days...here we go again.
Mr. Goodwin, last evening Phil kindly shared Mr. Pace's words with me. Just a few brief moments before opening to the RB board, I added his expressions to the file holding yours. Ironically, as the printer finished its last page, I began to read your post here.
Now Mr. Goodwin and Mr. Pace's expressions rest in front of me. Both wonderful passages will be included among those of Mr. Bradbury's kind gifts to us!
My one big regret now is that I never got to meet Ray. He was kind enough to autograph a book for me by mail. He and Stan Lee are largely responsible for my being a fiction writer.
Your words were beautiful and reflective of Ray. It is warming to know he was so loved, but a bit chilly to know we are now without him.
One of the comforting things is that we'll never be without him.
We ARE the Martian now. Look in the water...there's his face staring back.
...ah, yes! Mr. B took us to the edge of the grand canal, flowing with cool, rippling waters, so we could all celebrate together at the million-year picnic. We must.
I had promised myself just the other day to read his Martian Chronicles for "my" pure enjoyment. (No notes to give or essays to collect.) A few chapters each night as the summer breeze floats through our home.
Well, I have just gathered a signed edition from the bookshelf and will start now, just before midnight!
Thanks for the inspiration Mr. Goodwin. It is a text of pure poetry!!
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