Today I finished Ray Bradbury’s Now and Forever, which comprises two novellas, Somewhere A Band is Playing and Leviathan ’99. After all these years, Bradbury is still writing lyric genius into his late 80’s (bless his heart), mixing real with the unreal, the space of science fiction with the magic of fantasy. I was swept away to Summerton in Somewhere, and then treated to a retelling of a futuristic Moby Dick in Leviathan. The novella format fits Bradbury’s style perfectly, as opposed to the too-packed short stories and long-winded novels.
But it’s Somewhere a Band is Playing that I want to talk about. In this story, a newspaper reporter arrives in sleepy town Summerton, Arizona, yet he finds that its residents are perpetually happy, childless, and immortal. The protagonist must choose whether to reveal the true reason he came to the residents, and face possible exile from the town he is slowly falling in love with. The story is very similar to Martian Chronicles, yet with less tension (and aliens) and much more poetry. It is very calm and magical, but not without its one moment of horror. While reading, I came across this particularly beautiful passage that I would like to share with you–but I must warn you that it spoils the reason why the residents are immortal (even though knowledge of the ‘ending’ shouldn’t stop you from reading it).
“The great ‘medicine’ [to our immortality] was finding that we are alive and loving it. We have celebrated every day of our lives. The celebration, the exhilaration, of worshiping the gift, has kept us young. Does that sound impossible? By simply knowing you’re alive and looking at the sun and enjoying the weather and speaking it every moment of your existence, this ensures our longevity. We live every moment of our existence to the fullest, and that is a superb medicine. In that way we refuse the darkness.”
So today, after finishing these two wonderful novellas, I went outside and felt the sun on my shoulders, and I thought to myself, “I am happy to be alive.” Even though it seemed silly and obvious, I suddenly felt calmed, reassured, and thankful, and all the little worries that had been following me throughout the week seemed to slip away. I don’t quite know what it is, but it’s staying with me all day, and I hope it will resurface tonight when I look up at the stars.
This isn’t the first time I’ve felt an almost spiritual thankfulness of life, but sometimes we only need to be reminded, and it can appear in the most unexpected of times and places.
Thanks, Mr. Bradbury.