The Nostalgic Genius of Ray Bradbury

Photo by Alan Light

The older I get, the more I find myself reflecting on what was.

Cue the reactions. You’re 27, I can already hear people saying. You’re not old. Try again when you’re 30 or 40 or 50.

I don’t think there’s a certain point where it’s okay to begin looking backward, basking in the warmth of memories, remembering the fun things you did with friends or family. It just happens. And it’s something that’s constant. At 15, even, I can recall smiling as I remembered the summer vacations I had when I was an elementary school student.

The point is: time doesn’t stop for any of us. We’re all stuck in its pull.

Still, for some reason, the conversations I have with a lot of people are about the things we did before. We share funny stories or reminisce about the trips we took. We ache over the people we lost. We talk about our favorite teachers. And so on.

I don’t know why this is happening, but it is. It could be because we’re living in such a strange era, which causes all of us, I think, to look backward, or it could be because what so many people told me when I was about to graduate from college: the whole thing is a bubble, so enjoy it now. In a month or so, you’ll have to start paying bills.

Or, like I said, maybe it’s just what happens. No moment lasts forever.

In any case, all of this has me thinking about Ray Bradbury.

I’ve written about him before. I’ve noted how, if I hadn’t discovered him, I wouldn’t be a writer.

But the reason I keep coming back to him is this: he was one of the few writers who can absolutely nail what it feels like to recognize the fleetingness of all things. He’s a poet of our finitude.

A few months ago, I told a friend of mine to read Dandelion Wine, a book many consider to be Bradbury’s masterpiece. When she told me she loved it, I suggested she read its sequel, Farewell Summer. I have a copy of it, I said. I’ll let you borrow it.

I couldn’t find it in my house, so I decided to lend her another Bradbury book: From the Dust Returned. I remember reading the book for a project in middle school and being deeply moved by the whole thing. For those who might be interested in the novel, it’s about a family with mystical powers — think ‘the Munsters’ — going about their daily lives.

From the Dust Returned is, I think, the only Ray Bradbury book I haven’t read multiple times. I don’t know why. I remember how elegiac it was. That’s the stuff I like to read.

And then I remembered there was a story called ‘the Wandering Witch’ — it’s not a straight novel; rather, it’s a bunch of interconnected short stories — and it was about a girl who wanted to experience love but couldn’t, because her parents told her she’d no longer be immortal. So she decided instead to inhabit another girl and fall in love through her. We see her getting ready for a dance, meeting her date, and then spending all evening talking and dancing, dancing, dancing. By the end of it, I was moved. Its language — typical Bradbury — was beautiful, powerful. There was a timelessness about it, too, and not only because it was about beings who live forever.

It brought me back to my own youthful desires, those aching passions that drive us toward our first kisses and can also lead us toward our first broken hearts. I was there with Cecy, the main character of the story. I was there with her as she hoped the guy she met would realize he was talking to her the whole time.

In fact, the story mirrors what we do when we think of the past. It’s a memory itself.

That’s really the genius of Bradbury.

True reflection recognizes that we can never regain the things we’ve lost to time. These memories will always be mirages, for when we reach out to touch them, they will disappear.

And we will always look at the past as if we’re staring out of someone else’s eyes.