“Your function is God-given. To act on your genetics, to be what you were born to be-find out what it is-and do it. The Armenians have a saying, that in the hour of your birth, God thumbprints thee with a genetic thumbprint in the middle of your forehead. But in the hour of your birth, that thumbprint vanishes back into your flesh. Your job, as young people, is to look in the mirror every day of your life, and see the shape of that genetic thumbprint. And find out just who in the hell you are. It’s a big job-but a wonderful job.”
– Ray Bradbury –
It’s the beginning of summer and the end of another school year for millions of students. There have been commencement ceremonies at university graduations all over the country.
Understandably many of these speakers have the intention to convey an inspirational message to the graduating students.
I have always enjoyed Ray Bradbury sharing his views on a topic, whether in a magazine article or an interview on TV. Bradbury was and is an inspirational mentor to me. Like his books, whenever he participated in some discussion or gave an interview, he’d always grab hold of the viewer with his ideas and thoughts touching topics ranging from reading and writing to his outlook on humanity and the future.
Having never attended college, Bradbury often spoke of the importance of libraries and reading. Of his own experience he said, “I am a librarian. I discovered ‘me’ in the library. I went to find ‘me’ in the library. Before I fell in love with libraries, I was just a six-year-old boy. The library fueled all of my curiosities, from dinosaurs to ancient Egypt. When I graduated from high school in 1938, I began going to the library three nights a week. I did this every week for almost ten years.”
My personal favorite book is Dandelion Wine, said to be based upon Bradbury’s own childhood. However Bradbury of course is best known as perhaps the greatest science fiction writer of his generation. And when he spoke of the universe and beyond, you couldn’t help but catch his passion for mankind’s future.
In a commencement speech he once shared, “I had a thing happen to me when I was 9 years old, which is a great lesson. That was in 1929-the start of the Great Depression. And a single comic strip in the newspaper sent me into the future. The first comic strip of Buck Rogers. In October 1929 I looked at that one comic strip, with its view of the future, and I thought, ‘That’s where I belong.’ I started to collect Buck Rogers comic strips.”
I never got the chance to hear Ray Bradbury speak in person. I would have loved to. My daughter and her husband did. They were able to get tickets to see him a couple of times at the The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. I attended the festival in 2009 but didn’t get tickets to see and hear Bradbury speak. But I did see him later that afternoon as he sat at a book signing booth. He looked so tired and frail. I didn’t want to stand in line to get a book signed, somehow it seemed in a way it might contribute to him having to struggle to find the strength to be there longer.
It’s funny – I had always found Bradbury to be so optimistic, such an inspiration, and hopeful about mankind’s future. Then I read several articles about that ‘optimism.’ He said, “People don’t want to hear about your enthusiasm. It makes them feel guilty or uneasy. When they see me enthused, they think something’s got to be wrong. It’s not optimism on my part, it’s just natural good will, good feelings. Those feelings come out of ‘optimal behavior,’ a term I use constantly. I ask of you and others optimal behavior, and if you behave every day, and get your work done, and do it with love, at the end of a day, a week, a month, a year, whatever, you have a feeling of optimism — because you have done your work. If you don’t do your work, you get depressed and you’re pessimistic. There are the two opposites right there.”
Yes, ‘Optimal Behavior.’ I like that. – It’s true that if you do your best, work hard to succeed, if nothing else you deserve the right to claim that you gave it your best shot. If you don’t put forth the effort, you don’t strive to achieve your goals, then you deserve to be miserable.
I never met Ray Bradbury. He didn’t know me. But he was rooting for me all my life. He was rooting for us all. As he said to his young bride so many years ago when he first got married, “I’m going to the moon, and I’m going to Mars. Do you want to come along?” And she said, “Yes.”
And he invited us all to go with him.
“Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.”
– Ray Bradbury