Notes From my Knapsack 6-9-12
Mr. Electrico may have been right
In 1932, somewhere along the streets of Waukegan, Illinois, a carnival performer who used the still unusual technology of "electricity" to make children's hair stand on end, touched his sword with a light charge on it to a young man's nose, making his hair literally stand on end.
And he said to him, "Live forever."
That almost-twelve-years-old boy died on Tuesday. Perhaps the amazing Mr. Electrico was wrong in 1932, but from the perspective of 2012, he may have been on to something.
Ray Bradbury, who died this past week at the age of 91, was the kind of man who could say with a straight face "Space travel will increase our belief in God." If you've read "The Martian Chronicles" you have some sense of just how serious he was in saying that.
On the other hand, this is also the writer who said "I don't believe in being serious about anything. I think life is too serious to be taken seriously."
Some might argue that he did not take God seriously, and Ray would probably agree, even as he ended each conversation with "God bless!" He believed that the only reason we thought that science and religion were at odds was because we hadn't gone deeply enough into science, and that the journey would take us closer to a Creator, whose mysterious ways would prove to have a sense that would surprise us all.
I preached a sermon once titled "Dandelion Wine," and while I didn't explain much about Bradbury in the message, those who already knew his work came up to me, and smiled. We knew. The mix of fond memory and optimism about the future is something that sticks with you.
If you've ridden "Spaceship: Earth" at Disney World's Epcot (inside the giant silver geosphere) you've heard one of Bradbury's works – the script narrating your journey through human creativity and imagination, carried along by a sense of wonder.
In recent years, when Bradbury would talk about his work, he would say he was not really a science fiction author, or even a fantasy writer, but suggested his career could be summed up by saying he was "at play in the fields of the Lord."
Just the day before he died, The New Yorker published a story by Bradbury, remembering events of the summer of 1932. It was a reminiscence of the personal history that lay behind his earlier short story, "The Fire Balloons."
"I'd helped my grandpa carry the box in which lay, like a gossamer spirit, the paper-tissue ghost of a fire balloon waiting to be breathed into, filled, and set adrift toward the midnight sky. My grandfather was the high priest and I his altar boy. I helped take the red-white-and-blue tissue out of the box and watched as Grandpa lit a little cup of dry straw that hung beneath it. Once the fire got going, the balloon whispered itself fat with the hot air rising inside."
Most of us can't write like that in our prime, let alone at 91. Then his next paragraph tells us:
"But I could not let it go."
Of course he does, because that's what fire balloons are meant to do. You cannot hold onto them. They fly into the night, as they should. And yet he did not let it go, because it's now as real to me in 2012 as it was to that eleven year old boy.
He could never let Jesus go, either, and places him in a number of his stories as vividly as anything I've ever read this side of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Sometimes people can see him, and other times they miss who he is. That's real, too. Bradbury was a Hollywood script doctor at times, as helped create the best part of the movie "King of Kings," its ending, whose creation is imaginatively described in "A Graveyard for Lunatics." (You'll just have to read it, long story.)
Someone, I can't remember who or where, said "Ray Bradbury didn't predict the future; he tried to prevent it." So many odd little pieces of tech and social trends are, in fact, outlined far in advance of their appearance in his imaginative fiction, but that wasn't what he was writing for. It may be hard for many to remember how essentially pessimistic the 1950s & 60s were in spirit, although "Mad Men" is trying to help.
In that era, Ray Bradbury looked to the future, and smiled. I cannot let that smile go.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in central Ohio; tell him your story of hope in the future at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.