Wednesday, June 6, 2012
In high school Lit class, one of the books we were required to read was Ray Bradbury's
Fahrenheit 451. A depressing, horrible story of censorship, intolerance and the wholesale annihilation of books by burning. I'm not alone in having read this book in school. The main thing I took from this brilliantly written story--and have carried with me ever since--is that no one has the right to stop me from reading whatever I want. No one.
I can safely say this was the first time I was truly influenced by a book, a story, an author.
Fast forward now...maybe seven or eight years later. I'm sitting near the sea wall, the Pioneer Hotel to my left, Lahaina harbor in front, and Maui magic all around me. The soft whisper of the trees, the smell of the sea, the trades gently ruffling long hair across my shoulders, tickling my face. I have wandered down to the waterfront, my work at the dive shop over for the day, so I decide to sit under a large tree to watch the boats come and go in the harbor.
Half dozing, half dreaming, I'm a bit startled when a slightly grungy character comes close, standing in front of me, blocking my view, denting my space. I shade my eyes and look up at this guy, about my age, mid-twenties. "What's up?" I ask.
"Yes," I answer, my tone slightly offended. Don't I look like a reader? Though really, to be fair, can you tell someone reads just by looking at them? No, you can't.
He grins at me, crouches down and digs through a battered old military-type pack, then hands me a slim book. "I picked this up in Amsterdam. It was left on a chair at the airport, waiting to be read. Not the first book I've found in my travels. I call 'em "pass-it-along" books." He smiles, stands, and says over his shoulder as he walks off, "Up to you now."
I watch him go, bemused and yet oddly pleased and excited to be chosen, to be part of something so curious. I'm now in the pass-it-along book club. How cool is that?
The cover is worn, with a dog-eared upper corner. I finger the rip where the cover is pulling away from the spine at the bottom edge. At first I'm just a little disappointed to see it's a Ray Bradbury book, Dandelion Wine. I'm living in Paradise, I don't want to read any more horror stories about burning books, or terrible people and their hatreds.
But I read the teaser on the back, and the story appears to be nothing like Fahrenheit 451. It sounds intriguing, about a boy and a magical Summer. I turn my head for another glimpse of the guy, but he's long gone, and it's just a warm, quiet November afternoon in Lahaina. Opening the book to the first page, I begin reading about Douglas Spaulding...
And for the second time in my life, I am influenced by a story, a book, an author. How strange and wonderful that it's the same man.
This book changed many things for me. The passion and joy of this young boy during a Summer in his life, becoming aware, alive, being so completely in each and every moment. It was beyond incredible writing. It moved me, exhilarated me, started me on a path I still try to follow today: being mindful, in the moment. I began writing because of this book. I began to see things in a different way. The next afternoon I joined the crew on a schooner and sailed the South Pacific. I was alive.
That's a powerful lot of changing from one small book. I know I would be someone other than who I am right now but for this story. And what an amazing thought that is.
I hung on to Dandelion Wine for a couple of years. I just couldn't let it go; it meant so much to me. Then, preparing for a trip to San Francisco, I was looking for something to read on the plane and there it was. It was time to fulfill my club obligation. I read the story again on the journey, then left it on a table in the lobby of my hotel. I so hope someone found it. (I bought another copy the next day. I still have it.)
Over the years I've sometimes wondered who to thank for bringing Dandelion Wine into my life. The man, the storyteller, the genius behind so many tales, the dreamer of worlds; or that guy who chose me for the pass-it-along book club, handing me transformation inside the cover of a paperback. I'll thank them both, I think.
Ray Bradbury joined the stars yesterday. He was 91. I can't help but think Mars might have been his first port of call.