It was odd hearing that Ray Bradbury died this month. I was just thinking about him last month. Actually, I mentioned him in a tribute I gave at a close friend’s retirement dinner. As I planned the speech, I had to look up whether or not he was still living – and he was – at the time.
I was mentioning Bradbury because my retiring friend still taught his book, Fahrenheit 451, to her sophomore English classes. No one else in the department has taught Bradbury for a very long time. So I thought of him, among others, when I was thinking about what some of the great writers she taught might say to her, if they could speak to her at the end of her career.
I decided Bradbury would elaborate on something he said in Fahrenheit.
He wrote how everyone leaves something behind. A child or a book, a painting or a garden. I thin that in honor of my friend’s retirement, Bradbury might have added a retinue of enlightened students to his list. In the passage he goes on to say,”It doesn’t matter what you do so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.”
That, Bradbury explained, is the difference between “the lawncutter and the gardener,” and in my mind, the lesson plan purveyor and the true teacher.
My point was my friend had done that – left something behind (so much really) by introducing over 30,000 students who had passed through her classroom for a semester or two to the words and wisdom of Bradbury. . . and Thoreau . . . and Lee. . . her favorites, among others.
My friend put all those students in touch with these and other voices of the past. Voices that, in most cases, had existed one day and not the next. Voices that, like Bradbury’s – and my friend’s – will endure.