Ray Bradbury died June 5, 2012, at the age of 91 years. I found out a few days later, in the morning, a snippet of the Times in my email, my thoughts immediately overtaken, remembering stories of windswept landscapes on Mars, and dark warm nights illuminated by fireflies.
Ray Bradbury was an icon to me — a writer whom I read from childhood to the present, whose stories contained elements of science fiction, fantasy, and poetry, who used deceptively simple clear images to portray complex ideas. He had been a friend of my father, Leonard Rosenman, who was a composer, and my mother, Adele Bracker Rosenman Essman. He once inscribed a copy of Switch on the Night (about a child who is afraid of the dark): “To Danielle and Gabrielle, who I am sure will never need this book, from a very old man named Ray Bradbury.” (Gabrielle thinks he was about 30 years old at the time.) That copy of the book is long lost — but I read a newer copy to my children.
By happenstance, my family was visiting Los Angeles during the week-long celebration of Ray’s 90th birthday. Gabrielle and Peter, my sister and her partner, took us to two wonderful events during that week. We saw the initial performance of a play he had written, and a screening of the movie, Fahrenheit 451, and I was privileged to speak to him for the first time since I was a child. My son and daughter were able to hear him speak about being a writer. He recommended that anyone who wants to be a writer should write a story every week. He himself wrote every day.
Ray Bradbury wrote about magic in everyday life and the intersection of everyday life with magic, especially the fantastical experience of children. Of course, we didn't call it magic when we were children, and he doesn't call it magic either. The New York Times said that he did not use the “technical jargon” that was prevalent in the science fiction of the day, and this helped his writing reach a broader audience. His writing used the evocative language of the imagination, and reading his stories felt like the images from his words on the page reached directly to me, and activated my own imagination, so that I could see, hear, feel, smell the landscapes and characters in his books.
Imagination is the quintessential human quality, and a longing for magic lives in the deepest part of our souls. Like Ray Bradbury, we may not call it “magic,” yet we find ourselves reaching out with a sense of wonder for that which is mystical, evanescent, transcendental, spirit, essence, God. We find ourselves asking the great questions about the meaning of life: what is the place of humans in existence, who inhabits the next galaxy, what happens after this life is over, and who switches on the night.
So I do not say to Ray Bradbury, “Rest in peace,” but rather, “Rest in wonder.”